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English players playing fewer minutes in the Premier League: What can be done?

Oct 12, 2013, 3:45 PM EDT

England's manager Roy Hodgson (L) looks Getty Images

As if all the chatter about the lack of B-teams, a dearth in player development and whether England should convince Andan Januzaj to play for their country wasn’t enough, now data has been released showing the proportion of English players playing in the Premier League has decreased. According to a study by Opta, commissioned by the BBC, English footballers account for less than one-third of the minutes played in the country’s top division.

As a comparison, in Spain, which both lifted the most recent World Cup and took the Euro 2012 title, Spanish players play 59% of the minutes in La Liga. Germany, who placed third in FIFA’s latest rankings, has 50% of its Bundesliga minutes played by Germans.

With England still uncertain to qualify for the World Cup, news such as this only serves to increase fear that the country will continue to fall behind. With that fear comes knee-jerk reactions, ones centered on keeping players out rather than fostering growth within. Former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman believes England’s problems are getting worse, and stated, “Unless there is some sort of ratio idea that Uefa president Michel Platini has been advocating over the years, I expect that we are not going to resolve that problem.”

Perhaps the emphasis is in the wrong place. What the study doesn’t mention is how many of a country’s players are plying their trade in one of the world’s best leagues. Germany, who booked their ticket to Brazil on Friday night, has Mesut Özil at Arsenal and Mario Gómez at Fiorentina, to name just two examples. The spine of Spain hails from Real Madrid and Barcelona, but they also have David Silva at Manchester City and now rising star Thiago Alcântara at Bayern Munich.

England? With the exception of third-choice goalkeeper Fraser Forester, who stops his shots at Celtic, every single call up in the past 12 months has come from a Premier League side. The English are simply not plying their trade elsewhere. Perhaps it’s due to the cost of English players, perhaps from a desire for the players to stay at home, to play in the best league in the world. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both.

But rather than worry about the proportion of Englishmen playing in the top English league, perhaps England should fret more about their players playing in top leagues, period. Yes, it’s good for the national team if clubs develop home grown talent at quality academies. But it’s also good for the national team if players take a chance on playing outside of the British isles. When English teams compete against sides from Germany and Spain in the Champions League, they are often frustrated.

So too with international football. England may have ultimately triumphed over Montenegro on Friday night, but that was mainly due to the visitors changing their approach in the second half. The Three Lions were unable to beat Ukraine, and go into Tuesday’s match with Poland in desperate need of a win. Concern over how England will fare should they be forced into a playoff to reach Brazil reveals just how little confidence the English have in their players at this time.

Limiting the number of foreigners allowed in the top division would be an easier solution than finding ways of sending young players to other leagues, but in the long run, it will benefit neither the players nor the fans. The league will suffer as more and more talented players head to other countries. On the other hand, exposure to other styles of play, and experience gained from playing in other leagues, would do wonders for England’s talent, both with club and country. And that growth in talent will allow them to compete with the best players from other countries, naturally increasing the proportion of minutes played by Englishmen in the top division.

Surely that’s better than an artificial cap on players from outside the Home Countries, yes?

  1. capsfan19 - Oct 12, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    David villa plays for city now??

    England players get caught up in that drama!

    • gra42 - Oct 12, 2013 at 10:57 PM

      “..David Silva at Manchester City..”

  2. bostonredsoccer - Oct 12, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    Even if the Brits want to put a limit on foreign players, will the EU allow them to do it (remember the Bosman ruling that limited a country’s ability to limit EU passport holders)?

  3. mikeevergreen - Oct 12, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    English players should try MLS. Or South Africa. Or Japan.

    • vicente1302 - Oct 13, 2013 at 10:04 AM

      I agree…I think if they came to the States and played in the MLS at an earlier age they would bring up the level of play in the league and in turn it would develop the Americans and also bring in more talent from other countries which would also develop young English players and have them in form for international duty…I’m Mexican and I love the Liga MX but i would love to see the MLS turn it up a notch also …..we as the Concacaf need to turn it up as a whole and take some pride in representing our region….and the Premiere League needs to do something because down the road this could be disastrous….they have too rich of a history to let this happen to their youth.

  4. vicente1302 - Oct 12, 2013 at 7:39 PM

    The league office should put out a rule that young players who play for the u-20 etc. get a certain number of minutes during the season to develop…not trying to compare the two because the premiere league is far superior but the Mexican league has a rule that the youth has a certain amount of minutes played each season so they can develop…that is why they have been winning alot of the youth world cups as of late compared to other youth teams….you have to sacrifice to get results otherwise they will continue to decline although im sure it would be harder to stand by the rule in the.premiere league

    • gra42 - Oct 12, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      Yes, the EPL and FA have no interest in promoting England’s national team. No surprise there, the big teams are all owned by foreigners.

  5. gra42 - Oct 12, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    “The English are simply not plying their trade elsewhere. Perhaps it’s due to the cost of English players, perhaps from a desire for the players to stay at home, to play in the best league in the world. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both.”

    Actually, they just aren’t that good as individuals anymore. I don’t think it helps either that the National side’s call ups over the years make zero sense unless you see them from a big team exec or a player agent’s perspective. Some of the better players from the EPL over the years could have showcased on the world stage for interested foreign sides. The “career achievement” reward system for the 3 Lions has been the standard for far too long, and some of those careers developed only on the backs of superior supporting players and teams in the first place, except for England’s back line, who are the only individual players for England that would actually get minutes if they were from another soccer power. Except for Gary Neville. I like his commentary, but watching him play was like going to the dentist. Ha.

  6. wfjackson3 - Oct 13, 2013 at 7:15 AM

    Maybe its just because English players aren’t as good as they used to be.

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