Prior to the 2010/11 Premier league season, the FA introduced the “Home Grown Player rule”. The goal, in short, was to encourage clubs to nurture English prospects rather than spending resources on foreign players and global superstars, scuppering young English players’ chances of making a career in their home league. For some context, the initiative was introduced on the heels of Roman Abramovic’s Chelsea rising from relative mediocrity to taking the League and Europe by storm and Sheikh Mansour’s procurement of Manchester city, catapulting them to a top four threat and as we now know, the Premier league glory of winning in 2012 and a subsequent seat near the pinnacle of the League. Written By Leroy Thompson
England had been lurking in the doldrums of international football for decades with their failure to qualify for Euro 2008 serving as a painful low point in the nation’s footballing history, a stark and jarring contrast to the glory days of ‘66. Excitement about young, local players was at an all time low and the Premier League picture seemed destined to be a portrait of squads carefully curated out of players purchased from a smorgasbord of foreign nations.
Fast forward a decade and it’s fair to say that the Premier league landscape is far more Anglocentric. Excitement about English players and even more so, those whose careers are in their relative infancy, is on the rise. The 2018 World Cup in Russia seemed to serve as an initial proof of concept, of an effective initiative put into place 8 years prior. With the first group of home grown players that had graduated from the youth system into the Premier league and eventually into a proud and galvanised Three Lions Squad who ended up minutes away from a World Cup final. If we dig a bit deeper though, is the Premier league actually a fertile ground for young local players ? or has the lack of such players coupled with the massive global following of the Premier league only led to a brighter spotlight being shone onto English players who manage to break through into their club’s first team. With prodigious talents such as Jadon Sancho choosing to test the waters and bolster their reputation on foreign shores, just how green is the grass on the proverbial pitch that is the Premier League.
For comparison, the leagues ranked 2nd and 3rd for global viewership are Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga, both of which enforce restrictions which encourage the growth of local players and both of which boast national sides with track records of success on the international stage. La Liga carries a 5 non-EU player rule whereby a club’s squad can only contain 5 non-EU players and only 3 non-EU players may be named in a single match day squad. In the Bundesliga, each club must have 12 licensed German players under contract with a minimum of 8 players having been trained locally. While clubs in both of these leagues aren’t without a foreign element, it’s a difficult task to think of their top clubs without an associated world-class name from that country. When one thinks of Real Madrid or FC Barcelona for example, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique spring to mind immediately. In Germany, think Bayern Munich and Thomas Müller is and has been at the forefront of one’s mind. Similarly, in Dortmund, you’d be hard pressed to think BVB without Marco Reus or Mats Hummels. In contrast, When it comes to Liverpool and Manchester city respectively, Salah and Mané or Aguero and De Bruyne would likely be the first names on most fans lips.
Therein may well lie the problem. While the Home Grown Player rule guarantees the provision of an excellent platform for young English players to get a foot in the door, it doesn’t necessarily translate into regular playing time, nor is it a guarantee of long term opportunity within what is arguably the most competitive top tier league in the world and one which is ever evolving as global interest continues to burgeon. With all eyes on the Premier League, from a global audience which dwarfs that of its competitors, pressure on managers, owners and players alike is immense. The focus is on relatively short term success and cashing in on the globalisation of the game’s reach and the monetisation thereof. This holds true both for the Premier League as a brand and the individual clubs to which it provides a platform. The fact that clubs are independently run businesses means that their operations and practices are built as such and unfortunately this doesn’t always predicate the prioritisation of English players. The larger and more successful a club is, the more accurate this sentiment seems to be.
It seems a common trend that the opportunity to make a name for one’s self often comes about entirely by chance rather than by design. A long injury list within a specific position or an unsuccessful transfer window far too often remains the avenue by which home grown talent is afforded real opportunity to become more than a squad player, included only because they have to be. That said, among most clubs in the Premier League there is an emerging young English element. Accumulating playing minutes and establishing themselves as key figures within the successes of their respective clubs. One needs to look no further than this years champions, where the likes of Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander Arnold proved key protagonists in an historic season. Only time will tell whether this trend is nurtured and encouraged to blossom in the tumultuous climate that is the Premier League.
Phot credit;Premier league