The media loves talking about how the big clubs in England are the destroyers of English football. The doom and gloom mongers love to portray Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, as four clubs who have abandoned the notion of having English players in their sides, instead opting to buy fancy, expensive foreigners. This has become so much of an issue that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is thinking of ways to fix the problem - possibly by going as far as forcing teams to field a certain number of “homegrown” players.
Is my debate, however, merely a figment of the media’s imagination? Or is the failure of the English national team really because of its biggest club sides not fielding English players? I’m afraid that at the end of the day, English clubs - the big four included - are doing exactly what they need to do, and the FA is not taking care of its own matters.
To dispel this myth, let’s look at the key players of the top four clubs in the Premier League. First up are champions Manchester United. United are known around the globe for their famous youth academy, and most recently for the success of the class of 1992. David Beckham, Brothers Phil and Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt led the way for a new generation of young English stars. The core of this group led United to many Premier League titles and FA Cup titles, with a Champion’s League trophy thrown in there as well.
Today, Gary Neville - an Englishman - captains the side while Ryan Giggs - from Wales, but who has been with the club for years and years - co-captains and lifted the Champion’s League trophy this year. Paul Scholes - another Englishman - is the main man in midfield who keeps the team ticking. In addition, Rio Ferdinand is the rock in central defence for the club and is effectively the leader of the side. Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick are key members of the squad as well as they fill in the center of midfield. Wes Brown is a dependable squad member too. And oh yes, don’t forget England’s number one striker Wayne Rooney, who also plies his trade at Old Trafford. Youngsters like Fraizer Cambell and Danny Simpson are also progressing through the ranks. United are not ignoring English talent.
Next up are Chelsea, who finished in second place last season. When you think of Chelsea, what comes to mind? Chances are you have an image of John Terry at some point in his career either bleeding as he proudly wears the team’s kit or crying because his beloved team just lost (cue images of his penalty miss in the Champion’s League final). If it’s not John Terry that comes to mind, surely it’s Frank Lampard. Lampard has been a staple in the English national team for a few years now and has become an integral part of the Chelsea side that won two Premier League titles. These two players combined mean that Chelsea rely very heavily on an English core. That’s not enough for you, Mr. Blatter? How about Chelsea’s best winger - none other than Englishman Joe Cole. Cole is one of England’s most technically gifted players and was the scorer of England’s nicest goal at the 2006 World Cup. After the tournament, though, Cole sustained a long term injury. Who fills in for Cole when he’s hurt? None other than Englishman Shaun Wright-Phillips. Okay, SWP does not get much playing time, but another English international does: Ashley Cole. Cole is a certain starter in the Chelsea lineup and is one of the best attacking left backs in the world. He has made the left-back spot his own for the English national team and continues to ward off the threats of foreigners taking his spot at Chelsea. Chelsea are not ignoring English talent.
Next in line in this observation is Liverpool. Like Chelsea, Liverpool’s captain and star performer is English. Steven Gerrard was brought up through the Liverpool youth system and is often credited with being the reason that the Champion’s League trophy has found itself in Liverpool in the past few seasons. The team is built around Gerrard, so it would be impossible to say that the club don’t rely on English talent. I’m sure Mr. Blatter’s response would be to say “okay, so the midfield is reliant on one Englishman. So what?” Well, the defense has been led by another English player for years now. Jamie Carragher is Mr. Consistency for Liverpool and has played a crucial role for a long time now. There’s no denying that without the versatile English defender, Liverpool would not be half the defensive unit that they are. In addition to these two key components, Jermain Pennant has been seeing an increase in playing time recently. While his career took a slight dip in form, Pennant is doing his best to make sure he becomes one of the club’s important members. Liverpool are not ignoring English talent.
Finally, Arsenal round out the top four clubs to look at. Perhaps it is Arsene Wenger’s squad that the media and Sepp Blatter look at when they say that Premiership clubs ignore English talent. Too many times last season we saw an entire Arsenal starting eleven with zero English players. It’s hard to include one in the side when the only notable English player in the first team is Theo Walcott, who is largely raw talent. Besides him, the only other English player who makes cameo appearances in the side is Justin Hoyte. While he could become an English international one day, he’s not yet at the stage where he can make an impression on club or country. For now, Arsenal remains the only side in the big four that blatantly ignores any and all English talent. The blame, however, can largely be put on manager Arsene Wenger as he chooses to pay lower prices for overseas youngsters that he can groom into stars.
So, what is the conclusion of all of this? English clubs are not ignoring English talent. In fact, as you can see in this article, the two most successful sides actually base their teams around the most Englishmen. Manchester United clearly rely on English talent the most, and they are the most successful side since the inception of the Premier League and two-in-a-row reigning champions. Chelsea have more English players than both Liverpool and Arsenal, and they are consistent title contenders now.
Also outside the "top four" other clubs like Aston Villa are also producing home grown talent...Curtis Davies, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry were all in the England squad to face Germany recently. I don't remember the last time they had four in the squad but it's testament to the good work Martin O'Neill is doing at the club.
Instead of placing the blame on the big four clubs and saying they ruin the English football system, why don’t some in the media and other critics take a look at the facts? Clubs who do ignore homegrown talent are being left behind, and it is their loss. Instead of trying to force rules upon clubs, why not let them realize that it is their own bad management that is leaving them behind? If Arsenal want to ignore English talent and languish behind Manchester United and Chelsea then let them! Mr. Blatter, there is clearly no reason to attempt to implement “rules” defining how clubs must structure themselves. Over time the cream always rises to the top, a written rule does not change that situation.
Below is a link to the FIFA World Ranking.