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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?

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