By Jack Peat – Editor
In mid-August of last year, before a single ball had been kicked in the 2015/16 Premier League season, a worrying trend unfolded as the starting line-ups were announced for the opening weekend’s fixtures. Only 73 English players were among the 220 who started for the 20 clubs; a low of 33.2 per cent and a number that embarrasses the national game when compared to the major European leagues. The figure was down 35 per cent from the opening 1992-93 campaign of the Premier League, when 69 per cent of the players were English.
Since its inception, the Premier League has transformed England’s top tier into a multi-billion pound global entertainment business. Footballers, traded like commodities, have been sourced largely from foreign climes creating the most international league in the World. Nothing wrong with that, other than the balance has become skewed so drastically that some of the top clubs in the country field teams almost completely devoid of English players.
The upshot has been a decline of the English football team on the international scene. Since the start of the Premier League in the early nineties, England have slipped from finishing in fourth place in 1990 to finishing in 13th place in South Africa 2010 and 26th place in Brazil 2014. In the Euros, we haven’t managed to progress past the quarter finals since we hosted the tournament in 1996. The parallels between English players as an ‘endangered species’ in the Premier League and England’s success (or lack thereof) on the international stage are painfully evident.
But in the run up to Euro 2016 in France there are winds of change in the air. The Premier League’s top two have been propelled to the top thanks, at least in part, to English players. Five of Tottenham’s starting line up in their 3-0 drubbing of Bournemouth were English, and five of Leicester’s starting line-up against Palace were also home-grown. Conversely, Manchester City and Manchester United fielded five English players between them in a dull derby that was characteristic of their respective seasons, four if you don’t count Joe Hart who was subbed early in the game.
And that’s not an isolated trend. Based on fantasy football data – the barometer of all good football knowledge – more than half of the top-scoring starting eleven are English using an attacking 3-5-2 formation. Jack Butland, Charlie Daniels, Ross Barkley, Dele Ali, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane all make it in to the team, with an average age of 24.
Harry Kane, the Premier League’s top goalscorer, spoke to the London Evening Standard yesterday about the importance of home-grown footballers in the division. He said: “If I can be a role model, or make another manager play a young player coming through rather than
buy a player, that’s incredible”.
“There are players under their nose who will give everything to the club they’ve been brought up with, so the more chances players have at a young age, the more you will see young talent coming through, as we have at Tottenham this season.”
England qualified for this summer’s tournament with an unblemished record, with a spate of young prospects creating one of the most dynamic national teams in a generation. If England return from France with a good set of results under their belts, this year could conceivably be a big turning point for the English national side and the representation of English players in the top tier.
photocredit: By Jbmg40 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4268970