English talent pool is starting to dry up


What a great week for English clubs in Europe – but not for England.

While Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all topped, or shared top-spot in their Champions League groups, home-grown players hardly got out of the dressing-room.

Between them, the four clubs fielded just eight English players out of the 44 with which they started their matches, and to round off the national scandal not one of them has a manager born in this country.

Only one even has an English major shareholder – Spurs – and he doesn’t live here.

When the Premier League was launched a quarter of a century ago, the accent was strongly British.

Now Manchester City are so worried at a possible disconnect between their team and the fans that they are giving players time off to learn the language.

Meanwhile the pool of Premier footballers available to the national manager, Gareth Southgate, has sunk to round 70.

According to one estimate, Brazil alone has 5,000 playing abroad.

Southgate is still charged with putting out a side to win the World Cup, not in Russia next year but, according to the FA’s ambition, four years further on, in Qatar.

But if the pool continues to dry up at the present rate, it will have to be in a five-a-side competition.

The Football Association, once a pillar of the sporting establishment, has just had its worse week in history, mauled by a parliamentary committee for its attitude towards racial issues.

That wonderful touchstone, hindsight, would accuse them of something equally bad in my book, the responsibility for the loss of our national celebrity in the sport we created and nurtured.

Back in the early 1990s, when they were in talks leading to the formation of the Premier League, the FA could have insisted on limiting the quota of foreign players. No-one had that foresight to argue the case beyond the clause about international ranking which soon had a cart-and-horse driving through it.

The Premier will argue, of course, that it would not have grown to be the most watched and prosperous League on the planet, if transer restrictions had been imposed.

But the price has been heavy – the progressive disappearance of English names from the team-sheets.

Spurs had just three in their side to play Real Madrid – Harry Kane, Eric Dier and the new boy, ‘Forty’ Winks from Hemel Hempstead.

Liverpool and Manchester United had two English players each in their starting line-ups while Chelsea had just one, defender Gary Cahill.

The Europe League was rather more encouraging. Between them, Everton and Arsenal fielded 11 home-born players due, one suspects, to resting players ahead of their Premier League meeting at lunchtime today.

Everton were the only club to have lost to continental opposition in the week, going down 2-1 at Goodison Park to Lyon.

With just two wins in a dozen matches, Everton are in a wretched spin after failing to replace Romelu Lukaku and his 21 League goals, while Arsenal have lost away to the likes of Stoke City and Watford.

This won’t be a pretty one to watch, but it will have its own raw vitality. Neither side can afford to be the first to blink, and neither can their managers.

Everton’s Ronald Koeman senses that his future is on a knife-edge while Arsene Wenger needs three points to hold back last season’s criticisms from welling up again.

Dutchman v. Frenchman… rather sums up the way our national game has gone, doesn’t it?

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.