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Quota? Clueless!

England’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 collapsed spectacularly with defeat to Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday. Earlier, their chances had teetered on the brink following a 2-1 defeat in Moscow. In the interval, Steven Gerrard joined a number of players and managers in England calling for a quota on the number of foreign players allowed at each club.

FIFA sees quotas on foreign players as a way of promoting the development of home grown players within each country. European clubs are regarded as the biggest culprits, with large numbers of players from the Americas, Africa and Asia playing in the major European leagues.

While the major European clubs are opposed to such quotas, a few in England have taken the opportunity presented by England’s woes to jump on the quota bandwagon. Sir Alex Ferguson may see quotas undermining Arsenal and Chelsea more than they would Manchester United. Steve Coppell may see quotas as giving Reading a better chance in the English Premier League.

As England’s abysmal failure to qualify for Euro 2004 sinks in, the question will again be asked why there are so few good English players coming through the ranks at Premier League clubs.

The simple truth is that the number of foreign players in England has little or no impact on England’s performances at international level.

Turning the spotlight on the number of foreign players in the league is merely a xenophobic response to another set back for England. The litany of embarrassment and humiliation for England dates back at least to the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, when they lost 0-1 to the United States, which team comprised largely of players from the English Second and Third Divisions. This was followed by two thrashings by Hungary in 1953/54 – 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest.

England’s sole international success, the somewhat fortunate World Cup triumph on home soil in 1966, is often looked back upon through the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia.

The 1970s were a disaster, a 2-3 loss to Germany in the quarterfinals of the 1970 World Cup after having led 2-0, was followed by the failure to qualify for the finals in 1974 and 1978. The failings of the 1970s were all the more inexplicable and frustrating given that English clubs had their most successful period in European competitions between 1968 and 1984. Moreover, back in the late 1960s and 1970s, there were very few non-British players in the top flight.

The fact that the large numbers of Scottish, Welsh and Irish players with English clubs are not available to play for England is a separate consideration. There presence has remained unchanged since the inception of the English league in the late 19th century.

The real issues are the choice of the English management team, the development of footballing skills from a young age, and the structure of the Football Association.

Steve McClaren was never the right choice for England manager. Stints assisting Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and former England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, and one League Cup win and one UEFA Cup final (losing 0-4 to Sevilla) with Middlesbrough is not the kind of track record that qualifies one to be England manager.

In his column on 11 October 2007 in the Sun, Harry Redknapp observed that he hardly sees young kids having a kick-about in the park anymore. English kids these days are more likely to be glued to the TV or their computer games. In his words “It seems football cannot compete with an X-Box.”

The buck stops with the FA. Its cumbersome structure does not lend itself to effective decision making, despite a structural review by Lord Burns in 2005.

It is not that England does not have several very good players. However, without adequate numbers of top quality English players available to an England manager, there is insufficient competition for places to keep the players on their toes.

The English leagues, in particular, the Premier League, will feel the brunt of any quota on foreign players. The Premier League has become an international brand. A number of clubs are now foreign owned, and the top clubs have a global fan base. The global TV audience generates a large part of the leagues revenues. It would be inconsistent for the English authorities to impose restrictions on foreign players, while the English game reaps the huge financial benefits of unrestricted foreign capital and fans. English football cannot have its cake and eat it.

It is ironical that Gerrard should speak out in favour of a quota on foreign players, when Liverpool’s foreign owners and foreign fans contribute so much to his £120,000 a week salary.

There is no benefit to the Premier League and English football in forcing clubs to substitute top class foreign players with sub-standard English players. Why should foreign owners and foreign fans pay top dollars for second rate teams? Further, forcing the Premier League to make such sacrifices will do nothing to address the shortcomings of the English national team.

Any economist will tell you that quotas are inefficient.

Until a real solution is found, England’s continued failings in the international arena will cost English football, and the broader economy.

(Article first published on BB6 606:


9 thoughts on “Quota? Clueless!

  1. The English FA should resume the construction of National Football Centre at Burton-upon-Trent. It is the lifeline to the production of talented and promising England youngsters to be the future England stars of the future. France has benefited from the youth academy and became the World Champion in 1998. This is a classic example of being wanting to be World Champion. The FA can use the fund generated from the revenue from the previous World Cup campaign to fund the building of the academy. It would be the money well spent. It is a good investment and I urge the FA not to procrastinate on it and proceed with the building and implementation of the youth academy for the production of the youth academy that would bode well for English football.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  2. In the England squad that played Croatia, there were a number of players who are basically being wasted by their Premiership teams (and they seem to be OK with it).

    I am referring to
    Shaun Wright-Phillips
    Peter Crouch (excellent game, though)
    Darren Bent
    Jermaine Defoe

    These players cant get a game for their premier league teams, and they should really move to get regular football.

    Imagine if SWP had progressed as he was expected to, by not going to Chelski and living in their 2nd or 3rd team for a year and a bit, but by going to a team that wouldve given him regular first-team football.

    Peter crouch just isnt used by Rafa at Liverpool, and can be quite a good player despite his obvious lack of pace.

    The last two – not much to say really.

    I dont understand why Walcott wasnt involved – he has scored more and has had more games than the above named players, yet wasnt even thought about.

    If players are good enough, and if English managers dont stick stupid price tags on them (SWP,Bent), then they may go to teams that compete in Premier League, and get regular football.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  3. The U-21’s passion was just what was lacking in this lacklustre England performance. The experience did not show through, so how about sticking some of the young guns in to show what english football is really about? It would give foundations for the future whilst also giving the ‘top’ players something to think about also.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  4. Good point about Walcott. I think that Sven and Macca both regarded him as too small and lacking strength. His pace and accurate crossing/passing compensates for that in Wenger’s style of play, but I’d guess that for nearly all the English EPL coaches, Walcott and people like him are non-starters.
    The preference for the bigger stronger player is what makes the English game so exciting to watch when it’s played well, but so useless against skilful opposition (also big but better coached) playing a continental style, like Arsenal do.
    I’m not a Gooner, no way, but credit where credit’s due.
    So how do the FA change the youth coaching habits of thirty years, eh? Their track record on the National Centre makes you think it’s not even a priority.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  5. Here’s your three problems.

    rajiv: “Harry Redknapp observed that he hardly sees young kids having a kick-about in the park anymore.”

    tf_pragmatic: “The FA’s track record on the National Centre makes you think it (youth coaching) is not even a priority.”

    “The game in England is run by the clubs, for the clubs, and England should feel grateful for whatever they get.”

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  6. In reply to

    rajiv: “There is no benefit to the Premier League and English football in forcing clubs to substitute top class foreign players with sub-standard English players. Why should foreign owners and foreign fans pay top dollars for second rate teams? Further, forcing the Premier League to make such sacrifices will do nothing to address the shortcomings of the English national team. Any economist will tell you that quotas are inefficient.”

    So, by this logic, why not let international football teams buy and sell players from each other? Isn’t international football nothing more than a 100% quota system in these days of economic globalisation?

    We could do with a couple of fit strikers.

    The modern world is premised on free enterprise and private capital funding commercial enterprises. Britain and the USA have been preaching that to the rest of the world at least since Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s. The Premier League is a somewhat successful model of private capital funding a global brand, with little or no state assistance. Nationalistic mercantilism hasn’t really been in fashion in Britain since the days of colonialism and the East India Company. If national teams pay a market rate for the services of players, than fine, but they don’t. You wouldn’t expect highly paid executives in financial institutions, or other celebrities such as pop stars and actors to regularly perform “national service” at a highly discounted rate would you. Professional footballers are in an invidious position.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  7. In reply to

    Actually, the modern world is not premised on these notions, they are simply one of a variety of complex societal structures that we have invented. For instance, if you look at football clubs, in Europe they are less commonly based on share owning commercial concerns.

    The East India Company was not nationalistic it was self-interested. That is why it was criticised by parliament repeatedly during the latter part of the 18th century.

    Actually, we do expect our top entertainers and business people to perform works for the benefit of the community and reward them through rewards that have little economic value such as knighthoods and the like. Footballers are in the same position. We expect them to do football in the community, to work for charitable concerns and so on.

    Like any form of nationalism is not disguised self-interest. When various self-interests are put in the mix, the outcomes may vary.

    Human society has seen many structures at different times and at different places. At any point in location and history, one set of structures may gain prevalence.

    It just strikes me as odd when a individuals from society that choose to live by certain norms then premise arguments on a set of norms that hardly exist in that society other than in the context in which they are seeking to make the argument.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  8. In reply to

    People will use any argument to justify their desires. That is just human nature.

    The issue about quotas and English football is a much deeper one than just commercial interests, nationalistic ambitions and so on. It is ultimately about what you expect football as a sport to deliver to the community.

    A lot of fans in this country just want to see their local clubs and players playing well and getting a modicum of success however localised that success is. For them, those cycles of success and failure carry truly, life-enriching moments.

    Those fans are often supporting clubs that are not and will never be in the CL or UEFA cup. For them, success on the international arena can only really be achieved through the national team. Now, success in those terms can be measured in the pride they have for the team, not necessarily in the number of trophies won or competitions entered.

    They don’t care about the commercial success of the big clubs. Neither is the overall quality of the premier league nor how much media coverage it gets much of an issue. It is simply irrelevant.

    If you are looking for “community”, you are more likely to find it at lower levels of English football, in particular, non-league football.

    We shouldn’t kid ourselves – The higher levels of football, including the World Cup, European competitions and the Premier League, are primarily about nationalism, business or money.

    (First posted on BBC 606)

  9. In reply to

    But that is exactly my point. There’s only about 10 or 15 clubs whose fans believe they can have success on the international stage and of those only half a dozen make it each year. For the rest, who are the vast majority, the only international success they can hope for is from the England team. Have you never noticed all the George Cross flags at Wembley with town names like Shrewsbury, Hull, Leceister and so on?

    It is primarily about nationalism, its about having pride in your national team. Business and money don’t really enter into it.

    And that’s my point too – the bulk of the Premier League are those 10 to 15 clubs. So we are agreed then?

    (First posted on BBC 606)

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