English football has never been wealthier. When the new TV broadcasting rights deal comes through at the start of this season, all 20 of the Premier League clubs will be in the top 30 richest in Europe. With all this money going into English clubs, it is natural to assume that plenty of home grown players are being given the best training, opportunities and help they could get from these clubs, thus leading to an impressive national team. Even the casual football fan will know that this has not been the case for many years, with the performances of the National team appearing be in fact declining. So why is there so much money in English football producing so little English talent?
|The 2015 Ashes (Telegraph)|
First let us look at arguably the two other main national sports of England; Cricket and Rugby. How is it that so much success is being achieved on the international level in these sports? The answer is relatively easy. In these sports, international success is the main source for income for clubs and county sides. The club or county level sides serve as a feeder for the national teams, surrendering their star players mid season in order for them to bring home national glory at the 6 Nations or the Ashes. They do not go unrewarded, with international winnings partially being re-injected into the club game. TV broadcasters pay ungodly amounts of money in order to show the Ashes, the Rugby World Cup or the 6 Nations, and that is not just because of the national pride. It is because the national team is successful due to it being the centrepiece of the sport. This leads to a healthy balance of International and Club sport where teams can succeed in both with relative ease.
So why is this initiative not engaged in football? 25 years ago, the FA had the opportunity to buy a financial stake into the Premier League when it was first formed, but turned down this chance due to a short sighted nature. They can be said to have taken their eyes off the money, unlike the well controlled and regimented structures in Rugby and Cricket. Now, we are left with a league of 20 teams, who do not need the English national team to succeed in order for them to gain financial success. They can make enough to get by from their own financial resources and so the national game has simply become irrelevant. We have got to a point where clubs are highly reluctant to even allow their players to go on international duty. Even more worryingly, players are beginning to show a trend of not wishing to play for the country until it comes to World Cup year. Unlike in cricket or rugby, there is no incentive to produce home grown English stars, as it is far cheaper or easier to buy in young foreign players who have been trained up in their home countries. This, coupled with a league dominated by foreign owners with no interest in the success of the national team, means that there are very few opportunities or chances for players to even get minutes in the League, let alone games.
There have been some highly worrying statistics circulating the Premier League in recent years. In a study taken in 2013, it was calculated that 63.92% of the players in the league were not from England. This is a shocking comparison to the French, German and Spanish Leagues, who were calculated to have 31.6%, 43.5% and 38.9% respectively. This seasons Premier League winners Chelsea fielded a mere 3 English players all season, and I would forgive you if you had not heard of 1 of the 3, Roman Loftus-Cheek who played a staggering 74 minutes all season long.
Earlier this year, the England under 21 side defeated Germany 3-2 in a friendly, the result shocking many and caused many to call for England to be instated as favourites for the Under 21 World Cup in the summer. The German squad contained a total of 977 top flights caps between them (a number that could have surpassed 1100 had there not been injuries to Kevin Volland and Bernd Leno), whereas England's managed an abysmal 389. 4 of England's players had not even kicked a ball in the top flight if English football. What unfolded this Summer where England came bottom of their group having scored 2 goals, an 85th minute winner against Sweden and a 93rd minute consolation against Italy, and Germany reached the semi finals, shows where the real talent really lies. The only glimmer of light for England was the tenacious hard work of Harry Kane, but with the team not being able to pull their weight around him, this may just be another star player who would never achieve international fame due to failing team mates.
In 2002, after losing the World Cup final to Brazil with an ageing squad, the German Federation told its clubs that they needed young, home grown talent to be given priority, with a similar message being given in Spain. Lutz Pfannensteil, chief scout of Hoffenheim, stated in 2013 that, 'We were like other European countries, signing foreign players for the sake of it. When we restructured, we decided as a country to go for young players, preferably German. We no longer see the point in taking a player we can maybe find at the same level in Germany'. This took time, as shown by the struggles of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich amongst others to reach the latter stages of Europe's top club competition throughout the early to mid 2000s. Interestingly enough, this was a time when English Clubs flourished, with Liverpool winning in 2005 and coming runner up in 2007, Arsenal coming runner up in 2006, Manchester United winning in 2008 and then falling at the final hurdle in both 2009 and 2011 and Chelsea losing in the 2008 final.
So who came off better? England and the FA with their mega-money TV deals or the other European powers who grafted for home grown talent? Spain won every major tournament between 2008 and 2012, with Germany dethroning them in dramatic fashion at the 2014 World Cup, after falling in the semi finals, final, semi finals and semi finals in each major tournament since 2006. And England?
2006: Quarter Finals Loss
2008: Did Not Qualify
2010: Last 16 Loss
2012: Quarter Finals Loss
2014: Bottom of Group containing Costa Rica
The stats speak for themselves. What continues to infuriate me is the naivety of both fans, players and coaches alike, with the incessant 'this is our year' mantra being tossed around every World Cup or European Championship year. Yes, England sail through qualifying stages of tournaments every year, scoring many goals and giving sometimes highly impressive performances (with the exception of the never to be forgotten Wolly with a Brolly Steve McLaren 2008 campaign). Most recently, with the Under 21s getting 28 points from a possible 30 in the group stages, conceding just 2 goals, people thought this was the time for the players to do the country proud. Once again, they were utterly disappointed. This shows that England, although being able to dispatch the Slovakias and Slovenias of National football with relative ease, when faced with the powerhouses of World Football, they are simply no match.
So is there any hope for England? Will the Three Lions roar again? The top clubs simply need bought by owners who see a need for the National side and have a patriotic pride, owners who will enforce strategies like Germany and Spain, understanding that short term club shortcomings could lead to future national success. If this does not happen, the lions will be kept in their very small cage for a long time to come.