England won the World Cup for the first and only time in 1966, and it's been all downhill since then on the international stage. Theories abound as to why they've been unable to improve their fortunes at the greatest show on earth over the years, but officials in the English game almost always come down in favour of the simplest explanation they can muster: the incursion of foreigners taking jobs away from their brave young boys, limiting their opportunities to develop world class talent at home.
The FA introduced the home grown player rule for the 2010-11 season, setting quotas for how many English-trained players each Premier League club must register as well as defining limitations as to what kind of player counted as home grown. By 2013, the FA set up a commission to find a way to increase the number of English players in the league to 45% — up from the current 33% — but England's dire performance in Brazil last summer only increased concern about the lack of English quality in the EPL.
"It’s working well as a league and it is a great league to watch," said Greg Dyke, chairman of the Football Association. "But my fear for the future of English football is the Premier League ends up being owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners and played by foreigners. And, I think, certainly in terms of the playing, we can make a difference."
To make this difference, Dyke is proposing two new rules related to how home grown players are defined and represented on Premier League teams. First, that homegrown players must have been developed by an English club for three years prior to their eighteenth birthdays, rather than the current age limit of twenty-one. Second, that the number of home grown players over twenty-one should be raised from the current eight to twelve total on a twenty-five man roster.
If approved by the Premier League, the new rules would go into effect over a four year period starting in the 2016-17 season.
It's no secret that the top teams in the Premier League are those that field fewer English players and have fewer total minutes for their homegrown talents. If and when the new rules go into effect, the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City might struggle to meet requirements without spending big — and over spending due to the "English premium" — on English talent to pad out their rosters.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are already in a good position with regards to home grown talent and have the potential to largely be unaffected by the proposed changes. Of the players registered for Premier League action this year, Liverpool count nine home grown players.
- Joe Allen
- Fabio Borini
- Steven Gerrard
- Jordan Henderson
- Glen Johnson
- Brad Jones
- Adam Lallana
- Rickie Lambert
- Daniel Sturridge
Certainly, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson will both be departing at the end of the season, but Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, and Daniel Sturridge all receive regular playing time when fit. Brad Jones and Rickie Lambert both seem content with squad roles. Although Fabio Borini is literally never leaving no matter who tries to show him the door, the new rules would de-classify him as homegrown, which seems a bit unfair.
What's key is the role of the Liverpool Academy in producing talent to replenish any that departs for other pastures. Under 21 players do not count towards the home grown quota, but Liverpool have seven more players already on their registered Premier League squad waiting in the wings once they age out of the U21 category.
- Cameron Brannagan
- Jon Flanagan
- Jordon Ibe
- Ryan McLaughlin
- Jordan Rossiter
- Raheem Sterling
- Jordan Williams
This doesn't even take into consideration home grown talents that the club didn't register for Premier League action this year, but who might be out on loan at Championship clubs and would be ready for action in a few seasons' time when the rules would come into play.
Other clubs might get nervous at the thought of making their teams "more English" in two years, but Liverpool's existing holistic focus on player development already puts them miles ahead of many of their rivals.
It's this holistic focus that situates Liverpool far more closely to Europe's national power houses of the last ten years than it does to England. In his first season at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers spoke about ensuring that everyone from the senior team down to the U8s played the same type of football so that the club's ethos and style would be second nature to the players who eventually graduated from the club's academy.
It's an approach that was highlighted in an incredibly visible way when Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund squared off for an all-German Champions League final in London in 2013. Everything that had gone right about Germany's revamped youth development system in the dozen or so years prior found its culmination in a match that featured twenty-six players who were eligible to play for Germany's national team.
The FA's approach to player development has been roundly criticised for years, with the organization seeming to be under the impression that you can English your way to success by virtue of playing the way you've always played since the sport was first codified a century-and-a-half ago. Having failed spectacularly at Euro 2000, Germany took the opposite approach and quickly implemented a new strategy to return their nation to football glory by implementing a new nation-wide football philosophy, developing technical skills at the youth level, and emphasizing elite coaching — Germany has nearly 30,000 UEFA licensed coaches compared to England's 11,000 (PDF).
Spain took a similar approach to youth development, and between the two of them, Germany and Spain have a combined two Euro championships, two World Cup championships, and two third place World Cup finishes since 2006. There are worse places to look for inspiration, and indeed it seems that England are looking to those worse places. (Canada, probably.)
When nearly eight-hundred teams register for the FA Cup every year, it's clear that England's issue isn't at all related to the numbers game that the FA has declared to be the cause of their international failures. Dyke's increased quotas won't change that fact, and legislating an increased number of places in Premier League squads for English players does nothing to improve the infrastructure in which those players are trained for football's biggest events — or not trained, as it were.
It's easy — and incredibly tedious — for the FA and the English media to blame everything that's wrong with the league on the foreigners invading England's shores. Blaming immigrants is certainly a xenophobic and time honoured tradition in many parts of the world, but at some point the FA is going to have to take a look inward and actually acknowledge the role its own shortcomings are playing in preventing English players from developing to the point where importing talent no longer feels so absolutely necessary to the EPL's top clubs. Luckily for Liverpool, they're already there.