by Tony Attwood
Nine years ago I sat at my desk one dull, non-football weekend pondering why some countries do so well in international football competitions, and others do so badly.
The FA were telling us then, as then tell us now (with the help of a compliant newspaper industry) that the answer is that we have too many foreigners playing in the Premier League.
But it struck me that countries which had (at that time) been doing rather well did not have all their players playing in their home league. For example, the Netherlands had most of its top players playing abroad. Some countries do have quite a few of their players playing in their own land, but there was nothing immediately to say that this helped the country. I was back to the old cause and effect argument.
I wrote to the FA twice and asked them for the evidence they had used to back up their claims, but sadly they chose not to reply, so I did my own research and published it on Untold Arsenal.
I tried looking at a variety of criteria to see if any of them correlated with success in terms of major international footballing competitions. The number of professional clubs, the climate, all sorts of things. I could only find one factor that correlated – that was the number of qualified football coaches per 1000 people. You can read the data through the link above; it has been used by quite a few journalists since then, although without citation of the source. Indeed I seem to recall that the Telegraph used it once – at the end of August or early September 2013 as I recall.
Which is ironic since the Telegraph have just published a piece which is all about how playing in your home country is the key factor for success in internationals.
In their piece they say that “Of the 220 players who started for their clubs over the course of the opening round of fixtures, 83 qualified to play for England, which means just over 37% of players could be considered for selection for the national team….
“Last season, the average percentage of EQP in the Premier League was just 30% with the Big Six figure down at 19.9%. The 37.7% figure is the highest percentage of English players to feature on the opening weekend since the start of the season in 2011 when the average for the entire campaign was 38%…
“In Spain, over the course of the 2018/19 season, 59.6% of players qualified for the national team. In France, it was 50.5%, in Germany it was 44.6% and in Italy it was 40.3%.
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And that is it in terms of “analysis” – which isn’t really an analysis at all, because it only looks at a few countries, does not look at countries over time, and doesn’t look at the countries that have not done particularly well of late.
It fails to look, for example, at all four finalists of the World Cup last time around – and instead just picks on some countries that suits its analysis. If I may remind you, Belgium and Croatia got to the semi-finals – but there is no mention of them here. Largely because Belgium and Croatia had virtually every single player playing outside of their country – thus totally contradicting the “logic” and examples given by the FA.
This sort of fake analysis in order to prove a point is what the FA does a lot, probably in order to stop us thinking about some of their almighty cock-ups such as applying to host the world cup and getting only two votes (one of which was England voting for itself), or falling foul of the Charity Commission for running the Charity Shield while breaking virtually every rule that Charity Commission holds dear. These days they don’t even declare where the money from the Community Shield goes – not even when I write and ask.
Anyway, some of the commentary that follows is certainly hyper nationalistic. Ged Roddy, Academy Manager at Reading, who helped create the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Programme is quoted as saying, “I don’t think it is a coincidence that we have more English managers, who are more inclined to trust young English players and try to develop them, in the Premier League.”
So the suggestion is that foreign managers don’t trust young English players. That’s not racism, since Englishness is not a race but a nationality, but it is heading that way. Swap the phrase “Anglo Saxon” for “English” and you are getting rather close.
The really funny thing is that the Untold analysis suggested that the route that the FA was taking would be hard pressed to work, while the route that smaller nations were taking would work – so what the FA is pushing for all the time is (at least according to our figures) not likely to work at all.
What I found in doing that analysis in the early days of Untold, was that the key issue is nothing to do with who plays where, but the number of top qualified coaches that you have per 1000 people. That does correlate with success. But we don’t get that many people taking the top qualifications in England, for some reason.
Of course in England we have the phrase “you can prove anything with statistics” and that is often knocked around. The response is that no you can’t – not if the statistics are used properly. It is the FA that is utterly misusing statistics in order to exert more power over the clubs, as they have been trying to do ever since they persuaded the top clubs to break from the Football League, in the hope that they would play in a league run by the FA. The clubs did break away, but then decided to run their league themselves. The FA retaliated with the introduction of their “home grown” rule which has us mulling over the data every transfer window.
Of course, given a chance collection of excellent players coming together at once, it is possible that England will win something, but it won’t have anything to do with players playing in England. If however some of them went and trained abroad where there are many more fully qualified coaches around, then we might see an upturn. But otherwise, anything achieved will be in spite of the FA’s policy, not because of it.
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