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All Things Footie | Thursday, February 17 | Jordan

The English disease

Much chatter about Arsenal’s non-English 16: much condemnation from all round, including some ex-players. Is it really a bad thing, or is it just surprising that it’s taken this long to reach this milestone?

Firstly, let’s establish something important. It’s generally accepted by all that it’d be wonderful if a larger portion of Premiership teams’ players were English. But why? Fight, grit, battle, determination? Do we not get this from Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Robbie Savage and Dietmar Hamann? So is it passion, work rate and emotion? Have we not had spoon-fulls from Paulo Di Canio, Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona? No, it’s because we want our players to be supporters too—how we cry with joy when a player professes to ‘love’ our club, or the city it’s based in, and say how happy they are there. We remain blissfully ignorant that it’s probably easier for a Frenchman or an Italian to develop an affection for our clubs than someone born in a different city in the same country. Only long stints of unfailing service can turn, for instance, a goalkeeper from Leeds into someone with a genuine affection (though, note, still not a ‘support’) for a London team.

I don’t think for a second that foreign players fail to appreciate the history, prestige and sense of achievement that playing for an English team should give them anymore than an Englishman who’s not a lifelong supporter of the club would. Even then, the precedent is hardly set in stone—look at Alan Smith; born and bred in Leeds, a ‘die-hard’ fan who said he’d never leave his home town club. One relegation later and he moves to his most hated rivals. If Smith had not been English we’d have heard call-after-call on 606 damming these mercenary foreign types coming in and besmirching ‘our’ game’s dignity. It’d probably be held up as a test case for why we need more Englishmen in our teams. Regardless of his actions—as a professional, he had to detach any allegiance he may have felt for his home-town—no one can contend the fact the Smith gave his all in a Leeds shirt, but is that because he’s an Yorkshireman playing for Leeds, an Englishman playing for an English club, or because he’s Alan Smith?

One of the key reasons for the number of foreign youngsters in the English game was the invention of the ridiculous ‘90 minute drive’ rule—that no player under the age of 16 can be signed by a professional club that lives more than a 90 minute drive away. Of all of the stupid, pointless and badly thought-out rules the FA has come up with in recent times; this one has to rank as a high-roller. Aside from the technical issue that from—for instance—Torquay, the number of under-16 year olds that live within a ‘90 minute drive’ is rather limited compared with, for instance, Birmingham or Manchester, there’s a more sinister implication. As the rule doesn’t apply to foreign youngsters (how could it?), players from all over the world can be signed and relocated with no hassle from the FA.

You can see that the new—and even more stupid—proposal to limit the number of inexperienced Europeans in a first-team squad is directly trying to combat the inadequacy of the first law; but it’s like trying to turn out a light by smashing the bulb with a baseball bat. Idiotic, poorly thought out, and only done because the morons are too short sighted to see the switch on the wall.

Another prime reason for the lack of young English footballing talent at the big clubs is even simpler, the lack of young English footballing talent, full stop. While all the big, and many smaller, European nations have national academies of excellence to nurture and develop young players in the best possible surroundings—teaching them professionalism as much developing their abilities—the home of the beautiful game remains aloof to this idea. We have a huge pool of talent and enthusiam to seed our game, yet the haphazard system of local leagues and dodgy camel-coated scouting is leading to more and more young players from abroad replacing them at the big clubs.

Attitude is as much a part of the English players’ problems as much as anything else. Contrast the behaviour off the pitch of freakishly talented young foreign players—from Cesc Fabregas to Petr Cech to Cristiano Ronaldo—to their English counterparts—see Wayne ‘slugger’ Rooney, John ‘pisshead’ Terry and Kieran ‘CENSORED’ Dyer. It’s no wonder big, professional organisations prefer to keep the number of disruptive, juvenille, unprofessional Englishmen out of their playing squads.

As long as foreign talent is cheaper, more easily available, more technically able and more willing to treat football like a profession rather than a pastime, they will continue to—and continue to deserve to—grace the stadia of the Premiership. And good luck to them; I’m sick of whinging Englishmen who refuse to accept any responsibility for the problem the nation’s footballers are facing.

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