Last season a quarter of PL clubs failed to list 25 players. Why?

by Tony Attwood

The notion of a home grown rule came into force after the Bosman ruling in 1995 and was introduced by Uefa as a way of coping with the implications of that ruling.  However because of the free movement of people regulations within the EU the rule does not focus on nationality but instead stated that the 25-man squad submitted by each club playing European competitions must have at least eight locally-trained players named in it.  Regulations set out what home grown meant in this regard.

Importantly these rules meant that clubs had had no obligation to play their home grown players, or actually employ any – it is just the number of foreign grown players in the squad is limited.

So has the rule helped England?  Certainly between June 2017 and July 2018, England reached the World Cup semi-final, won the World Cup at Under-20 and Under-17 level, and the European Champions for under 19s.

But England has been pretty up and down through the years.  For example, overall England were 15th in the world in 2017 but had risen to fourth by 2019 and are currently fifth.  So the country is ok at the moment, but has certainly not always been in the upper reaches since the introduction of the rule.

So perhaps homegrowness has not helped the FA as much as it would like to suggest because last season a quarter of Premier League clubs – including Arsenal – preferred to list fewer than 25 players in their squad, rather than fill the list up with home grown players.

Now as I am sure you know, in a Premier League squad, clubs can only have 17 foreign grown players out of 25, which leaves eight places for home grown players.

Arsenal had five such players of whom four were qualified to play for England (the fifth was Bellerin, who according to “reports” (as they like to name themselves) is about to leave us).

And I find it interesting (although that doesn’t mean anyone else does) that what I have never seen is a league table that compares how many players of the home grown type there were in each 25 man squad and where the club came in the league.  So here we go, but first the definition…

A “Home-Grown Player” means a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).

Here is the table – those not making full use of their 25 allocated places are in red – the position column is the league position at the end of last season.

Pos Team Home grown players HG spaces Pts
1 Manchester City 5 3 86
2 Manchester United 12 74
3 Liverpool 8 69
4 Chelsea 4 4 67
5 Leicester City 12 66
6 West Ham United 10 65
7 Tottenham Hotspur 9 62
8 Arsenal 5 3 61
9 Leeds United 6 2 59
10 Everton 10 59
11 Aston Villa 14 55
12 Newcastle United 15 45
13 Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 4 45
14 Crystal Palace 15 44
15 Southampton 15 43
16 Brighton and Hove Albion 12 41
17 Burnley 18 39
18 Fulham 11 28
19 West Bromwich Albion 20 26
20 Sheffield United 17 23

Thus five teams deliberately gave up some of the 25 available spaces rather than employ home grown players that they didn’t think were good enough.  Four of those five ended up in the top nine last season.

So we can say 40% of the top 10 clubs in the Premier League opted for less than a full squad, rather than employ more home grown players.

What does that tell us?

Of course as always many interpretations may be possible but the one obvious fact is that there were 16 available spaces with Premier League clubs for home grown players that were not used.  As a policy it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

And we must also note there is one other point: under 21s are neutral when it comes to nationality: Saka, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Martinelli, Nelson, Willock, Guendouzi fell into that group last season.   Yet as can be seen from that list only two made the first team on a regular basis, while two were out on loan.

So it is clear that some clubs would sooner leave gaps in their squads rather than bring in more home grown players.

It also means that when various websites give us lists of all the players coming to Arsenal they are careful to avoid any thought of homegrownedness (or is that homegrownity?) because these players they nominate are primarily foreign grown, and so there is no space for them in the squad – unless we start selling foreign players to make way.

Or unless we do what happened last year, and simply not register the players, leaving them without a club to play for.  Something with which I must say I feel very uncomfortable – and which is probably actually against UK law within which employers cannot take action which effectively forces an employee to leave.

It’s interesting though.  No one is really challenging the HG rule and the FA are pushing the League to extend it.  But given clubs are willing to under-fill their squad, it is hard to say it is working.

Yet the FA want more of it.

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