The distinct lack of English players playing at the nation’s top level, the Premier League, seems to be an ongoing issue. Last season, the percentage of English players in the Premier League was at its lowest level yet; just 31% of starters. Go back to 1992 and almost 75% of Premier League players were English; a clear fall.
Why is this? Many point to rising levels of money allowing for greater foreign investment and the ‘globalisation’ of the Premier League. Another excuse came from Pep Guardiola. When asked about the lack of English players in his squad, he proclaimed: ‘I would like to have English players, believe me, but they are so expensive’. This reply was problematic. Take Michael Keane for example, whom Burnley bought for just £2 million. He has just received his first England cap and is regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the league.
Others say that English players simply are not good enough, and this is perhaps hard to deny. The falling number – and quality – of English players in the Premier League directly correlates with the declining number of British managers. The many foreign managers, Guardiola included, feel no need to field English players, because they are not concerned with the growth and development of the national team. Jürgen Klopp or Antonio Conte can hardly be expected to care about whether England beat Lithuania and Iceland.
Managers want the players who will get them results, regardless of nationality. This includes English managers, but since they have an affiliation with their own nation, they will want to do all they can to help English footballers, especially having been in this situation themselves. The same can be said for foreign managers; they will want the best for footballers in their own countries.
Part of the reason England are currently slipping down the FIFA world rankings is because the players are not getting a chance at the top level. It is no coincidence that fewer and fewer ‘home-grown’ players are coming through the ranks in the Premier League. The players are not getting a chance because their managers are not so interested in them, or at least do not prioritise them.
In Sunderland’s 2-0 Premier League loss to Manchester City on 5th March, David Moyes included five English players in his eighteen, with a total of eight Brits. Guardiola, on the other hand, fielded just three Brits in his eighteen.
It is not just the ‘top’ teams that are missing English players. Take Watford, with their Italian manager, Walter Mazarri. In their 2-2 draw away at Bournemouth back in January, they fielded just two English players in their starting eleven. Bournemouth, with the English Eddie Howe in charge, fielded eight English players in their starting eleven. Eddie Howe sympathises with and prefers players from his own country, and it will be managers like him who contribute to the growth of the national side.
Foreigners often thrive in England. The problem ultimately arises from foreign ownership. A foreign owner wants the best manager, not the ‘local hero’ manager. Undeniably this can often have wonderful effects on the Premier League – take the sacking of Nigel Pearson at Leicester and the subsequent appointment of Claudio Ranieri.
The Premier League needs the best players and the best managers, regardless of nationality. Foreign owners are vital in delivering this. Therefore this issue of English players is not harming the quality of football in the Premier League, but it is having negative effects on the quality of the national team. Gareth Southgate needs it to change, but sadly for him the Premier League does not need change.
It seems the declining national side is quite a large sacrifice to pay for the rise in quality in the Premier League, and the vital global interest and funds that follows from this. After all, the Premier League would be nowhere without foreign players.