By Tony Attwood
The notion that a lack of English players in the Premier League is bad for England, bad for football, and quite probably bad for Brexit, is standard fare in terms of what England managers say.
And it is noticeable that they never give any evidence of why this is the case. It is just argued on the basis of that most dubious of propositions: “common sense”.
OK so we are used to managers not being very bright, but those journalists who cover the story go on and on covering the story over and over, without ever questioning it – as well as without providing evidence. Then some of those same journalists get uppity if we start believing that they are biased. Maybe they are not. Maybe they aren’t very bright either.
The simple fact is that journalists who don’t check the stories they run are likely to be biased, because all they have to go on is their own gut feelings. And the neo-racist long running saga of “too many foreigners” is just that. A scare story about foreigners, coming over here, taking places in our football teams and quite possibly stealing other things too.
And perhaps normally we could ignore this as just journalistic tripe – but at a time when increasing numbers of British voters seem to be willing to vote for far right parties which, when I have heard them, use some rather nasty anti-foreigner rhetoric, is (to me even if no one else) rather worrying.
Steve McClaren, when he was manager of England, joined in the campaign which argued that because all these foreign players kept coming into England and taking our boys’ jobs, we needed more legislation to stop them. Then English players could get jobs playing in the Premier League. That would, he argued, make England more likely to win the world cup.
What struck me about that argument was that it would also diminish the value of the Premier League, the quality of play would get lower and lower, and so English players playing in the Premier League would be used to a lower standard, and England would get knocked out the world cup even earlier than usually happens.
So because of this dichotomy it was then interesting to see McClaren sign Georgino Wijnaldum from the Netherlands, Aleksandar Mitrovic from Serbia and Chancel Mbemba from the Congo. Now why did he do that?
Could it be that he learned something when he was at FC Twente and brought in Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica) and Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia)? No, surely if he believed that countries should have their nationals playing in their own league he would have been buying Dutch players!
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The research as to what it is that influences the success of countries in the world cup and other international affairs is fairly simple. It took me one summer weekend nine years ago and was then published in Untold . It has since been republished (without acknowledgement) in the Daily Telegraph in August 2013.
Now we hear that Gareth Southgate thinks that only 15% of players in the Premier League will be “English” enough to play for England in ten years time, unless the PL clubs stop picking the best players in the world, and instead pick players according to where they, or their parents, or their grandparents, were born, or were nationalised to.
And apparently only 30% of the players starting PL games in 2018/19 were eligible through the convoluted rules, to play for England, compared with 33.2% in 2017-18. While those dastardly top six clubs are even worse at this with only 19.9% of players starting games being true blue Englishmen, or at least having grandmothers who stopped over to give birth.
“We’ve got to arrest the slide,” Southgate warned without giving any evidence as to why. And of course he could not because there isn’t any. Yet he tried to make it look like he had used research, and of course the journalists – the one’s who like to laugh at us because we think they are biased, bought it hook line and whatnot.
“The big concern for me is this graph continues to fall away and that we end up in 10 years’ time with an England manager who has got 15% of the league to choose from. Why would that not happen? It is a big danger for us.”
And what of other countries? Is that not happening there as our incredibly rich top six go on buying and buying? Does it not affect other localities if PSG and Man City can buy other countries’ best players as and when they like?
Oh – yes – it must affect everyone. But the journalists never thought to ask about that. (Which is one good reason to believe they are biased – because it is either that or they are stupid and either way we should not believe them)
And then we see the real silliness of all this. One article put it thus:
“When it was put to Southgate that, if an English player was good enough, he would succeed regardless, he shook his head. ‘That’s not quite right. Some of the lads are getting through and it’s by chance rather than it’s been plotted,’ he said.”
And how do we know that the English qualified players get through by chance and the nasty foreign devils get through by some dastardly plan? Ah, he didn’t say. And oh, the journalist forgot to ask. And journalists have the temerity to criticise us????
Even more hilarious was this one in the Guardian:
Southgate’s solution is for “grown-up conversations” between the Premier League, Football Association and others involved in the game. And he is clear about the potential consequences if the issue is ignored. “We can’t sit back, either as a league or a national federation, and think: ‘OK, it’s all going well and so we sit,’” he said. “Because those bloody Germans, they will be doing stuff. They’re out looking at how they get better.
The area of assault is clear… and it is political…
“Brexit is offering an opportunity because there will have to be change – whether people want it or not – around work permits. But we shouldn’t also ignore the fact that we’ve got some of the top coaches in the world at our clubs. They’re helping not only to develop players but to set an example for younger coaches.”
But hang on – those coaches are quite often, well, not to put too fine a point on it… foreign. And if we change the rules post-Brexit (whenever that is) surely that will also mean that those coaches won’t be able to come either.
You see Mr S., these things apply all round. OK maybe Mr Boris, as our new prime minister, might agree to a rule that says “Not many foreign footballers” and then maybe he’ll say, “Foreign football coaches welcome”. Yes that is quite possible given that it is Boris. But there are two problems. One is the new Prime Minister in the UK might not be as bonkers as Boris, and the other is that even if he or she is, then maybe he or she will not actually be that concerned with football.
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