There is a prevailing attitude that exists at the top level in English football. Many Premier League chairmen, driven by the shirt sales and season ticket renewals, would rather spend large sums of money on a seasoned continental star, than invest time and patience in nurturing young British talent.
Although, from this season, each club must register a squad of 25 players, no more than 17 of whom can be 21 or older without three years of continuous development in the English game. This idea has been in the pipe line for a few years now, and has clearly been pushed to the front of the agenda after the FA watched England and its experienced ‘Golden Generation’ slump out of the World Cup to a young German side. A country that got its act together and sorted out a youth program in the later nineties and is now reaping the rewards of that set up, (16 of the 23 man squad where under 26) . To then watch Holland, a country famous for its youth setup, and Spain, a country that fifteen years ago decided to re-vamp its set up and is now unrivalled in prospects, battle it out to be the best in the world.
Last season, the top 5 teams in the Premier League had on average 35 players in their first team squad. One of the first advantages that comes to mind about this new ruling is that big clubs will have to put a lot more time an effort into sorting out what’s happening with their fringe players.Big international players will still be coming through the doors at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, but with these new rules in place, we may begin to see a much heavier loan market open up between the Premier League sides and the lower division teams. Cash strapped sides in the football league will be rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of Tottenham, Man City and Arsenal almost forcing their young prodigies on to them.
There also is the fact that these young players who the coach deems good enough will be put in the squad, where in the past, the club may of bought an experienced international who was coming to the end of his career and was happy sitting on the bench with his retirement fund until needed.
But does that specifically mean English players are going to benefit from this? Sure eight of the twenty five players in the squad have to of trained at the club for a number of years before their 21st birthday, but that’s doesn’t mean they have to be English. This new rule seems to fit players like Cesc Fabregas or Gael Kakuta like a hand in glove and there is the negative approach that most clubs might(will) take, and simply spend more money and effort finding young foreign players faster and younger.
We might find Joe English punted out the Academy before he’s reached his 17th birthday, because he doesn’t compare to Jose Brazil, who can balance the ball on his middle toe & already has a sponsorship deal with Nike. Never given a fair shot at it and doesn’t get to take advantage of this ruling because Jose Brazil is also illegible for it. That’s an extreme case, and I’m not entirely convinced that the introduction of foreign players exactly spoils our youth system, I’m merely saying it for arguments sake. Perhaps the problem isn’t anything to do with our youngsters having a shot on the big stage, you could argue that plenty do, and maybe its a problem that’s a little deeper rooted.
There is no denying that youth football in this country, is light years behind the rest of the continent, and it could be put down to plenty of things; kids can’t play on the street any more, the diminish of the working class, the gap between the average punter and his club in the modern game, or perhaps that were just not doing it right.
Where is our Clairefontaine? France has 12 elite regional academy’s, the Dutch have 14. How many do we have in Britain? Why don’t all our youth teams play the same tactics and formations as the first team so they can easily integrate between the squads from the age of 16 like they do in Spain? Why are we the only country in the entire continent that play young players on full sized pitches, what is the British obsession with physicality over technical ability?
In England, there are 2,770 UEFA qualified coaches, Spain has over 24,000 UEFA qualified coaches, and Germany has over 35,000. An average U-18 player in Holland receives up to 6500 hours of dedicated coach training, in Scotland and England its just under 2000.
All these things I feel, need addressed if we really want things changed. Its hard to look at these problems and come up with a reason to why these things aren’t simply replicated in England, theirs plenty of money flying around and i think most people would have little sympathy for the FA if they were to say that they couldn’t afford to fund such new schemes. I’m sure Capello’s £6mil annual salary could build an elite academy like the ones in France and Holland, I’m sure the £500 million Wembley could of funded a great deal more.
England are at a point in their footballing history where the tools and means are sitting in front of them and need someone to put them into action, footballs a game where trends go in and out of style, and the Premier League isn’t going to always be the trendy, billionaire play thing that is today. Sure, they’ve made a little progress this year by implementing this rule, but its still a long road to go.