Addressing the Balance

by Ibrahim Akkas

Arguably, the English Premier League is best league in the world. It’s an incredibly competitive league where the quality is great throughout and the game is played with a great tempo and physicality.

But, there has been something of a moral panic in England in the past few years. There has been a consistent worry about the number of English players playing for the elite clubs in England. To many observers of the game, there is simply not enough English players representing the top four clubs.

The common hypothesis is that as the Premier League has got wealthier the number of English players in the league has rapidly declined. Perhaps it’s agreeable that domestic football has become more international. But the question is, how does England fare to other nations such as Italy and Spain in terms of the number of nationals of the particular country representing their top four clubs?

The FA have tried to minimise the issue. This season, the Premier League has implemented the home grown rule. The rule demands that each team must enlist at least eight ‘homegrown players’ in their official squad list. But homegrown players can include foreign players who have been lived in England since their early teens. So some argue, the homegrown rule is perhaps flawed.

For the analysis, there has been a comparison between the number of nationals used by England in contrast to the number of nationals used by Spain and Italy. This will put a measure to the degree of England’s concern with the number of English players representing the top four.

The teams chosen for the analysis are the English, Spanish and Italian top four of 2009/10 season. This therefore means the teams analysed are the clubs who originally participated in the Champions League this season.

The statistics are based on players who have made appearances for the teams in any of the four competitions (National Cup, League, Europe, League Cup) during the 2011/11 season.

England

Team No. of players No. ENG players % of ENG players No. of players representing in Europe No. of ENG players representing in Europe % of ENG players representing in Europe
Chelsea 30 8 26% 25 7 28%
Man United 28 9 32% 26 8 32%
Arsenal 31 6 19% 25 5 20%
Tottenham 32 13 40% 23 6 26%
Total 121 36 29% 99 26 26%

One could argue it’s alarming that only one team in England’s top four has a double figure representation of English players. Tottenham clearly have a higher representation of English players compared to the other teams in the top four. In comparison to their North London rivals Arsenal, there is a gulf in difference.  Only six players have been of English origin for Arsenal this season. To many, this is an incredibly disturbing statistic.

However, the Champions of England, Manchester United, had the highest domestic bias out of all the top four teams in Europe. So it could be viewed as good that United made it to the Champions League Final this season as they had the highest representation of English players.

Spain

Team No. of players No. ESP players % of ESP players No. of players representing in Europe No. of ESP players representing in Europe % of ESP players represnting in Euroope
Barcelona 32 21 65% 26 15 57%
R. Madrid 33 17 51% 26 11 42%
Valencia 28 15 53% 26 14 53%
Sevilla 28 12 42% 26 11 42%
Total 121 65 53% 104 51 49%

There is a frightening difference between England and Spain. All the Spanish teams in the top four were in double figures in regards to the number of Spanish players used. Even Sevilla, the team with the lowest domestic bias, still has a far greater figure than any of the English top four. This demonstrates how poorly English players are being represented in the elite positions of the Premier League.

Furthermore, for  Barcelona, Valencia and Real Madrid, more than 50% of the players who appeared for them this season were Spanish. With the English teams analysed, there was not a single team who had anywhere near 50% of their players being English.

Barcelona deserves special praise. They have dominated Europe and Spain with a sensational domestic bias. Real Madrid’s domestic bias is 51% while Barcelona’s domestic bias is 65%. This demonstrates the wide gap between the rivals.

Italy

Team No. of players No. ITA  players % of ITA players No. of players representing in Europe No. of  ITA players representing in Europe % of ITA players represnting in Euroope
Inter 30 7 23% 29 8 27%
Roma 28 12 40% 26 10 38%
Milan 32 16 50% 23 11 47%
Sampdoria 29 18 62% 29 18 62%
Total 116 50 43% 107 47 43%

Even when comparing the domestic bias in Italy, England is severely lagging behind. 50% of the players used for the Serie A champions Milan were Italian, while only a mere 32% of Manchester United players, for example, were English.

The likes of Roma, Milan and Sampdoria have a higher or very similar domestic bias to Tottenham (the team with highest domestic bias for the English teams analysed) This vividly proves not only in Spain but even in Italy, the top English teams are not representing English players as much as the other nations are representing their nationals.

But perhaps, Sampdoria are evidence that too many nationals can be an issue. In the 2009/10 season, Sampdoria finished 4th. While in the following season, they finished 17th and were relegated. This season they had a 62% domestic bias. One could argue that Sampdoria are proof you need a balance between the amount of nationals and foreign players.

Out of all the Spanish and Italian teams analysed, one team had a domestic bias which is even worse than some Premier League clubs – Inter Milan only fielded seven Italian players this season. Only Arsenal had a poorer domestic bias. Furthermore, when Inter won the Champions League in 2010, there was not a single Italian player in their starting eleven for the final. Perhaps this is a worry for Italian football. It could suggest that Italian footballers are becoming over-looked. However arch rivals, Milan are proof that this is not the case. After all, they were highly successful this season and they used 16 Italian players.

The statistics prove two things. Firstly,  that English players are not given a sufficient chance on the largest club football stage. While in contrast, it could also suggest that English players are not good enough to play at the top of club football. Perhaps one would have to agree with this as if the English players were good enough to play on the top level, they would play. The simple fact there are only a handful of English players representing England’s top teams clearly indicates that a majority of the English players are simply not good enough and there are better players from different nationalities.

Perhaps the dearth of English players at the higher end of the Premier League I could provide an explanation to why English players are viciously over priced. In past few years the asking price for English players has risen beyond belief. The prices could be inflated due to the fact there are not many English players at the elite clubs. Therefore meaning that English players who are credible for the elite clubs are often rare, thus explaining their inflated price. Furthermore, one could even argue the new home –grown rule in Europe and in the Premier League has further inflated the price of English players. It is depressing but the nationality of a player can often inflate the price.

However, more has to be done to improve English players. After all, managers pick the players on terms of their ability. If an English player is good enough, he will play in the team. It is simple as that. But a majority of the time, English players are falling short at the higher end of club football. English clubs need to further invest in their academy’s and look to develop the players technical levels. The clubs need to take more of an interest and a more active role on the grass roots level. The English kids of tomorrow need to be instilled with a structured philosophy of how the game should be played and why it should be played in such a way. This will develop the youngsters understanding and reading of the game.

The stats prove England are lagging behind their rivals, and they have reacted far too slowly to the problem. In England’s top four, there is almost certainly one Spanish or Italian player per team. Yet in Italy and Spain there aren’t any English players in their top four sides.

The English clubs need to take a far more proactive role in their attempts to make the English players more suited for the elite clubs in England. But sadly, as the stats prove, the Spanish and Italian players are streaks ahead of the English players at this moment of time.

You can read more from Ibrahim by checking out The Football Front.

2 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    “It’s an incredibly competitive league where the quality is great throughout and the game is played with a great tempo and physicality.” I think there is a huge gap in quality from the top 6 and the rest. Also i only believe it is competitive in the relegation zone. I say that cause i could guess 1 of 3 teams that will win the premier league next year. Not much of a competition when you can guess with that much accuracy. Same goes for Spain, but its even worse there. Italy is a little less predictable, while Germany and France have been very surprising lately.

  2. Mike says:

    At first I assumed that there would be a large difference in total populations of the countries in question; Spain, Italy, and England. England is an Island nation and I just assumed it would have the lowest. The reality, however, is that Spain is around 45 mil, England around 49 mil, and Italy around 60mil. There is absolutely no statistical reason that England isn’t producing the same quality players the other countries are. The question is then, if it is not the players, it may be the scouting/coaching that is affecting how youth develops.

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