All Things Footie

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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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All Things Footie | Monday, February 7 | Jordan

Stupid is as stupid does?

So UEFA, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that from 2006, club squads for European competitions must have a minimum of 4 ‘club-trained’ players (6 in 2007, 8 in 2008—presumably by 2014 they’ll have to have 20…). Apart from being a pathetic (and misguided) attempt to try and make national football seem important again to countries with strong domestic leagues, and for reasons I’ll go into shortly, totally unaffective, this plan also has the major drawback of being illegal.

Over the last couple of years—since this whole ‘homegrown’ player quota idea has started to be be floated around—I’ve been involed in a raft of pub conversations that ran along the lines of ‘it’s a great idea … blah blah’, ‘you only object because your team’s full of foreigners … blah blah’, that I want to set straight now once and for all.

First, A little background reading :

“Any national of [an EU] Member State is entitled to take up and engage in gainful employment on the territory of another Member State in conformity with the relevant regulations applicable to national workers. He is entitled to the same priority as the nationals of that Member State as regards access to available employment, and to the same assistance as that afforded by the employment offices in that State to their own nationals seeking employment. His recruitment may not be dependent on medical, occupational or other criteria which discriminate on the grounds of nationality.”

Read that paragraph again. Now tell me that it’s possible to legally tell a professional footballer from an EU country can be prevented from working for his employer because he was not born in the country he is playing in. The act above came into force in 1976—UEFA (laughably calling itself a ‘European’ giverning body yet still clearly ignorant of the laws of the region it’s presiding over, even when they’re nearly 30 years old) prove once again they’re staffed and run by idiots with no concept of the game of football as a global game. Which given their status as a multinational governing body is a little ironic I think you’ll agree.

The wordy argument from UEFA will no doubt be that they are not restricting foreign nationals per se, they are simply encouraging ‘homegrown’ (I hate that term—are they vegetables?) talent. Fifteen minutes in a European court would clarify they’re talking out of their Blatter.

Regardless of the legality of it all, it’s a stupid idea anyway. The proposed ‘club-registered’ player is defined by UEFA as one who has been registered for a minimum of three seasons with the club between the age of 15 and 21. Given that most of the top sides (thus, ones who play in European Competition most regularly) sign up players at very young ages from all over Europe and the World, and train them through the youth and reserve teams until they’re ready for first team debuts, it wouldn’t affect these ‘jouneymen’ foreign players at all. The players affected would be the prodigious overseas talents—the likes of Kolo Touré, Arjen Robben, John O’Shea, Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas—who may not have been given chances because an inferior Englishman wouldn’t affect the ability of the manager to include Thierry Henry, Petr Cech or Ruud van Nistelrooij.

In comparison with domestic competitions, International football is a very poor relation, it’s true, and you may be thinking that it’s all very well for me to criticise this proposal, but what’s the alternative? Well, frankly, it’s a lot simpler than most of the governing body’s moronic think-tank’s would like to think it is. They justify huge consultancy fees and wasting millions of pounds that could be pumped back into the game by sitting around big tables coming up with crappy ideas like this, when all it takes is a few logical steps:

This system would create a realistic, exciting, and marketable competition; sponsors would pay serious money (lets get over this stupid, hypocritical notion that international football should be some kind of altruistic, pride-driven competition that players will do for free and shouldn’t make a profit) and games would be televised all over Europe and the world. International squads would become more close-knit, the quality of the games would improve, the quality of the players would improve as they’re given a regular chance to play in a different setup to the one they play in at their clubs. The money made—as well as lining the pocket of some shit who nicks my ideas—could be used to finance the development of football in the poorer European nations, and bring a bit of equality to the game.

A European club league will never work, and will never happen (I’ve been into this before, so I’ll spare you now), but a European country league is a genuinely interesting prospect, and one that may help drag this area of the game out of the mire it’s currently wallowing in.

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