Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Has an Influx of Foreign talent in the Premier League affected the Development of the National Football Teams of the other Home Nations?

Many will agree that England in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup were not great. In fact they were bloody awful. An embarrassment to the Nation? Perhaps, but shocking nonetheless.

People have quite rightly come out and criticised the players, Capello, the tactics, the lack of fight, the lack of spirit, the lack of ability and mostly the lack of form carried over from the Premier League season. Then others began to scratch the surface and see how deep-rooted the problems the England National Team actually go.

The major criticism was the coaching ability, or lack of coaching ability, found in this country among the most impressionable talents, the youngsters found in the school parks and in the Under 8’s Leagues. The future talent pool of English Footballers was taken a harsh look at by Sir Trevor Brooking, who made a comparison between World Cup Top goal scorer, Thomas Muller , 21 and Chelsea Reserve Daniel Sturridge 21. He made the comparison that Muller as a promising youngster in the Bayern Munich Squad, had cemented a secure spot in the First Team, getting regular action on the pitch and scoring goals, later became the top goal scorer at the 2010 World Cup, just a year later after getting regular first team football at high league level. Daniel Sturridge on the other hand made just over a handful of League appearance, mainly as a sub and his future potential is beginning to look questionable.

So as we can see the main problem seemed to be the inability to get promising youngsters regular first team football. The solution then, is the Premier League’s 25 man Squad registration system, which I’m all for, as a requirement is the team must have 8 registered Home-grown players, which have been playing in the English Football system for 4 years since under the age of 21. However criticism then begins when you realise foreign players like Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal, qualify under this rule too.

However in comparison to the other Home Nations, you have to say England did marvellous! Now this is in no way meant to be insulting to the National Teams of Scotland, Wales and both Ireland and Northern Ireland, but at least England qualified for the World Cup. The English performances at the World Cup and European Cup are actually quite good compared to the rest of the UK and Ireland.

So has an influx of foreign talent into the Premier League really affected how well England plays? Have the foreigners of the Premier League, who change the dynamics of the game, and force teams to be better, have they really hampered the abilities of our National Team? Or have the likes of Carlos Tevez, Didier Drogba, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Fernando Torres and Dennis Bergkamp, not actually forced our English players to play better week after week, year after year since the Premier League's beginning all the way back in 1992? The Premier League after all, is regarded as the best League in the World, and since the start of the Premier League in 1992 England have only failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, led by Graham Taylor and the 2008 European Cup led by Steve McClaren. Both of whom are now regarded as poor choices as manager.

That stat alone should go some way to show you that the foreign players of the Premier League have served the National team well, so well in fact that every World Cup England has been in since the creation of the Premier League, they've advanced past the group stage. Not too bad in retrospect really, when many say the League has too many foreign players. With 66 different individual countries represented in the Premier League, I'll let you be the judge if there's too many foreign players, but most cities have that many different nationalities represented within their respective area.

The main problem for me caused by the influx of foreign players in the Premier League is the detrimental affect it has had on the likes of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish national sides. Particularly the Republic of Ireland National Football team who in 1990 were a very good side, but today they struggle to qualify. What's gone wrong?

Firstly we can blame the poor quality of the Football Leagues in the other home nations. The Welsh League is regarded by many in England as the lowest professional tier in Football, very much akin to League to or even the Conference League. Just look at the Cardiff Football team, their Welsh League is so bad Cardiff want to play in England, and even then they're only a mid-table Championship side (although with Craig Bellamy at the helm that may change). The Irish League is almost a joke with no team ever qualifying for Champions League and the SPL is such a two-team league it may as well be called the Scottish La Liga.

This doesn't mean to sound disrespectful to the respected teams of each league or any fans, but these comments generally match the quality that each league represents. My biggest gripe however is the way that some of these leagues are set out, mainly the SPL.

For those that don't know the SPL uses a Split format, which ends up with every team playing certain teams 3 times, once home and possibly twice away. However all are not happy with this highly unusual format, in fact Rangers manager Walter Smith branded the format as "unfair" and called for an 18-team league to be considered. The SPL has defended the split format, however, and dismissed the possibility of expanding the league due to a lack of strong enough clubs within the Scottish Football League. It’s a sad state of affairs for Scottish Football when you can’t find 18 “strong” teams for your top flight.

It should also be noted that in the Scottish league, a large proportion of SPL clubs' squads are being made up of Scottish players (73% in 2004–05). The figure in England is much closer to around 40% which would suggest that despite a lower amount of top English players in English teams, the National Squad still does a lot better than Scotland’s National Football team.

In fact when you take a look at Scotland's National Football team, the majority of players are either playing at Championship Clubs (e.g. Middlesbrough) or SPL teams. Their best player in the Squad is arguably Darren Fletcher of United, who many see as a fringe player of the United Squad until recently. Then again had Owen Hargreaves not been out the squad for an extended period, would Fletcher still been selected as often?

The states of other National Teams from other Home Nations and Ireland aren’t much better. For a long period of time David Healy was N. Ireland’s best striker, a player who struggled to make an impact at just about any level of competitive Football in England. Of course before Healy there was George Best, but he never really bothered to play for the National Team, and whilst the man was very gifted at Club level, but we never really witnessed his true potential on the World’s finest stage. Now the Welsh National Football team possess some decent players such as Craig Bellamy (Now at Cardiff in the Championship), Gareth Bale, one of Tottenham’s star players and a quality left back, but after those two? Joe Ledly in the centre isn't a bad player but his lack of high level competitive Football really shows in the International games, and the team overall suffers from severe lack of depth.

It is perhaps the Republic of Ireland’s National Football Team taking the biggest dip in quality however. In the early 90’s, Rep. of Ireland lead by “Big” Jack Charlton was quite a force to be reckoned with. The achieved the quarter finals at Italia ’90 and even qualified for USA ’94. The team used to have some damn fine players as well, Roy Keane for one, former Liverpool striker John Aldridge, and a whole host of players from top Premier League Clubs, all of which were getting regular Football. Nowadays the ROI Football team lacks the many quality players required to mount a decent challenge in the competition. The only standard out players in their squad today, are arguably Robbie Keane, who can hardly be called “World Class” and Shay Given who’s Manchester City’s no.2 ‘Keeper now behind Joe Hart – an Englishman.

When we consider the impact of foreign players on the Premier League and the National Football teams of the Home Nations, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa gives us some interesting statistics. For example The Premier League was the best represented league at the tournament, with 108 players, while Italy's Serie A provides 75 names and Spain's La Liga 57. Along with Germany and holders Italy, England were the only country at the finals to have a squad chosen entirely from their domestic league, which goes dividends to show just how strong an asset the Premier League is for the National Team. The Germany squad had a very successful tournament and the Bundesliga has grown in popularity and technical ability and skill. Yet as a result, a lot of top foreign talent has moved into the German league this season, on top of the talented foreigners such as Ribery and Robben, who were already playing in Germany.

So whilst many bemoan the fact that the foreign players have hampered the England National Team, look at the other top football leagues of France, Germany, Italy and Spain and look at how well their National teams have done recently (less so Italy and France at this year’s World Cup) and in the past. Maybe those foreign players are actually helping the technical development of domestic players.

Just look at the next crop of young English talent, Connor Wickham, Jack Wilshere and Jack Rodwell – all fantastic prospects playing alongside the top foreign talent in their respective leagues, maybe the English Football Association needs to look at the coaching quality for youngsters in this country, rather than allowing the media and managers to lambast the amount of foreigners in the Premier League.

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