There was a general hype in the British footballing world following the qualification of four British teams out of five to the last 16 of the Champions League. The optimism after England’s last-gasp win against Argentina, and the fact that two British players had made it to the podium for the 2005 Ballon D’Or Award indicated that the British Leagues (but more specifically the English League) was taking huge steps forward in the quality of its players and profile abroad.
Now, three months later, we have only one British representative in the Champions League, if “British” is the adjective you want to give to an Arsenal side who haven’t fielded a single British player in its starting line up since the February 4 win away to Birmingham and didn’t see any British players in action in the tie with Real Madrid.
The FA should set a minimum number of English Players at every club.
The number of foreigners in European leagues nowadays is an issue which concerns big and small clubs alike, but Arsenal have got to the point of ridiculousness. West Ham manager Alan Pardew, who does have foreign players in the squad, but keeps a good crop of English players too, accused Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger of “jeopardising ‘the soul of English football”, underlining the fact that it is important that top clubs especially shouldn’t forget that “it’s the English Premier League and that English players should be involved”. Having a foreign manager does not justify Arsenal’s situation. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, together with their array of superstars, have a healthy number of Englishmen in their squad, some of them in the first team (Terry, Lampard, Cole). Equally, Martin Jol’s Tottenham has Robinson, King, Dawson, Jenas and Carrick in the starting line up with Defoe on the bench, and five of these are in England’s senior team.
PFA chief Gordon Taylor also showed his disapproval after Arsenal’s tendency to just field foreigners: “Arsenal getting to the Champions League quarter-finals was not an English success, but a reflection of the talent of youngsters from France and elsewhere in Europe”; he offered a pessimistic form of hope however, suggesting that “If England don’t do well at the World Cup there may be a greater willingness to address the situation.”
One of the reasons why Premiership managers do not buy British is because it has proven to be so expensive. Pardew, for one, had to splash out £7million for Under-21 striker Dean Ashton. He maintains however that “top clubs should not lose sight that it’s the Premier League and English players should be rightly involved”, adding that “the FA should set a minimum number of English players at every professional club”. Arsene Wenger, in response to Pardew’s criticism, replied by saying that Arsenal do have English players in their squad (Cole, Campbell, Walcott) but that Arsenal “represent a football club and not passports”, and that “football is about quality, amd nothing else.”
The English Premiership, since its creation in 1992 has seen plenty of foreign players make a massive contribution towards not only the quality but also the profile of the English game abroad – Zola, Cantona,Bergkamp, Klinsmann, Schmeichel, Di Canio and Henry to name just a few. But the Premiership not only risks losing its English spirit by seeing an excessive number of foreigners in its squads, but may also compromise the future of talented English youngsters who, because of this, risk not being able to break into a squad in their homeland.