Terry Venables adds his tuppence-worth to the debate about foreign players in the Premiership:
“The academy system is something that hasn’t really borne fruit in the way we wished it did,” he said last night. “There are a lot of players coming from around the world, which makes it difficult for local boys.
When I was playing it was just Great Britain that clubs picked from. You had to be the best in Great Britain, which wasn’t easy. But today you’ve got to be the best in the world. If you want to be the best that is what you have got to be. Nevertheless it does have some restrictions that make it very difficult for more young players to progress.”
He’s referring to the football academies for young players at the Premiership clubs. These fill with young men from France, Spain, Africa, Italy, Portugal and Holland, leaving little room for our own young men at the country’s best training centres.
In other words, English players are having to rely increasingly on the facilities available at less wealthy, less well-endowed clubs, and aren’t necessarily getting access to the best training minds available. This has a knock-on effect later in the careers of English players and thus on the England team.
When we looked at this last week, we saw that fewer English boys were persisting with football per se, so the pool of available talent was shrinking before it gets to academy age. That, plus the innate advantages of Englishness in terms of language, relative lack of homesickness and culture clashes etc., made English players more expensive than foreign ones on the open market.
We can probably add to that what you might call the Wenger factors: foreign players are, on the whole, far more open to tactical discussion. On average, they possess better technical skills. They are unlikely to buy into any kind of youthful drinking culture. They are more likely to treat football as a serious career. There are English players aplenty in Arsenal Youth and Reserves; the first team sees only Walcott and Hoyte Senior.
By 2008, UEFA wants clubs in European competitions to have eight home-grown players – four developed at the specific club – in the 25-man squad as a condition of entry. When this idea was first mooted, only five of that season’s (2005-6) Champions League clubs would have struggled with the ruling. Which is good, except that four of the five were Arsenal, Chelsea, Celtic and Rangers (the other club was Ajax).
It’s worth noting that although our top clubs have continental players in their academies, the reverse is not true. There is no foreign legion of British players abroad.
The only solution that I can see to this threat to the future of the England team is grass roots – produce more and better players at 12 years of age. Fortunately, Simon Clifford hasn’t waited for the Football Association to deal with the problem:
Clifford’s problems with the perceived wisdom are numerous – out-dated coaching methods, too much focus on competition too young, not enough time spent on skills and many, many more – but can be condensed into one central tenet: our young players are not playing nearly enough of the right type of football.
Clifford is adamant that the best foreign players are “manufactured” and sees no reason why English youngsters cannot match their athleticism and skills, given the right amount of good coaching.
The BBC review the current situation in this article, from which I take the Clifford comments.
My personal take is that if we can get ages 0-12 right – and this goes for the other sports as well – then the rest will pretty much take care of itself. Make our own raw material better in terms of instinctive skill and attitude, things that can be coached and trained, and let the rest of the world try to keep up.
Start early enough, and there are the side benefits to consider too..