Foreign Invasion Series #1 – Players


This is a series I have considered doing for a while, and after the BBC published their State of the Game research last week, I thought now was the appropriate time to start my ‘Foreign Invasion’ series.

It will consist of three articles, around foreign players, managers and owners in the English Premier League. This one is of course on foreign players in this country, which is what the BBC report was on. The other two articles will be up in due course.

The BBC compared the playing time of players from different countries this season, last season and seven years ago.

Last season, English players contributed to 32.36% of minutes played, compared to 35.25% in the 2007-08 season.

That is not surprising, as it is clear without the use of statistics that the number of English players has decreased.

Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling: Giving English youngsters hope
Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling: Giving English youngsters hope

This season though, the percentage appears to be on the way up, as up until October 1st, English players had played 36.08% of minutes this season. However, this percentage is boosted by Premier League newboys Burnley. The Clarets used only one non-UK player (Steven Reid, from the Republic of Ireland) in the first six games this season. Without Burnley it is 32.36%.

Of the 136 English players who played this season, Burnley used the most (13) while Chelsea, Stoke and Manchester City had each used the least (three each).

I think it is vitally important that we continue to bring English players through and the percentage needs to increase in order for the national team to do well at major tournaments. We are beginning to see signs of this, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw proving that there are talented English youngsters out there.

The Premier League introducing the Homegrown Players rule in 2010 was a fantastic idea, and I think it is helping these players break through and make a name for themselves. The quota says:

“All 20 Clubs must include eight Home Grown players out of a squad of 25 for that Premier League season.

“A Home Grown player will be defined as one who, irrespective of his 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 prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).”

The only problem with this rule is that it does say “irrespective of his nationality”, which means foreign youngsters that signed with clubs at the age of 16, count as home-grown players.

FA chairman Greg Dyke’s commission into the future of English football has the “ambitious but realistic” target of increasing the number of English players in the Premier League to 45% by 2022.

The Premier League has seen a flourish of Belgian exports in recent years
The Premier League has seen a flourish of Belgian exports in recent years

Is this a realistic aim? I’d like to think so, but with these findings from the State of the Game report, it may not be:

  • English players accounted for less than a third of playing time last season – the 32.36% figure compares to 69% 20 years ago. The 45% FA target is still less than domestic players’ total in Spain and Germany. England was last at 45% in 2000.
  • Top clubs use fewest UK players – Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham use the most non-UK players.
  • Foreign players are being used as squad players – of the 373 non UK players used in last season’s top flight, 92 (24.66%) played less than 10 games.

However, there is cause to be optimistic…

  • England internationals come from more of the top clubs compared to in 1966 – so far this season the average finishing league position of the England team is fifth, compared to tenth in 1966 and 9th in 1990 – two of the country’s best World Cup years.
  • Many English players are mainstays for their team – 40% of English players have played every game analysed in the study this season. That 54 player total is more than the number of players in the Premier League from France – the second top nation in the top flight by minutes played.

Before I go on to where the foreigners are coming from, I want to mention the case study which the BBC featured on their report and shows, perhaps foreign players aren’t giving our youngsters a chance.

Michael Woods is 24 years old and currently plays for Hartlepool United after a few campaigns playing non-league football. He was signed by Chelsea in 2006 as a promising youngster, but was released in 2011 after finding foreigners taking his place. This is what he had to say:

“”I think there are too many foreign footballers in the Premier League. I’d like to see a quota of three English players in each team. At 15, 16 or 17 you’re playing with lads who you’re looking at and thinking ‘he’s a cert, he’s going to make it, he’s nailed on, he’s got everything’. Then it comes to the age of 19/20 and Premier League managers can buy an Eden Hazard with 100 French league games under his belt for £30m. He’s going to play and the young lads aren’t – it’s as simple as that. It’s not that the English lads aren’t good enough, it’s getting that first-team experience.””

So where are all these foreign players coming from?

In 2007-08, the country which contributed to the second most minutes in the division was the Republic of Ireland, with 6%, closely followed by France on 5.88%.

Last season, it was again France, who supplied the most players behind England, with Newcastle helping the percentage of 7.5%. The Magpies used six French players in the first six games this season.

Aforementioned case study Michael Woods - then a promising teenager.
Aforementioned case study Michael Woods – then a promising teenager.

Belgian players are also becoming more popular in this country, with Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany amongst the big names from there. In 2007-08, Belgian players only contributed to 0.1% of the minutes in the Premier League (from just one player, Manchester City’s Emile Mpenza), but last season, that had increased to 3.39%.

From my own research, I have found that since the start of the 2008-09 season, we have seen players from nine new nationalities feature in the Premier League.

It is a topic I could go on and on about, but I’ll leave it and get started on writing about foreign managers and owners in this country. Those should be out before Christmas.

To read the BBC State of the Game report in full, click here.


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