There is a fascinating article on the BBC website today about the birthplace of EPL players. It is well worth a visit.
The issue of whether there should be a “cap” on the number of foreign-born EPL players has been a hot topic for years in England. The argument being that the national team would be stronger if more English players got the opportunity to play in the EPL earlier, and more frequently. The counter argument of course is that the EPL wouldn’t be as good quality, and the big clubs always push back and say such a cap would hurt their ability to perform at the best.
Of course, there are plenty of murky, underlying issues here as well. There is an economic issue of paying so much for foreign players. There is definitely a xenophobic issue against Johnny foreigner stealing the jobs of nice English lads, and then playing fake diving continental football as soon as he arrives. There is also that wonderful conflict between club and country, for managers and supporters.
So, what do you think? Here are my thoughts.
Firstly, the article provides wonderful rich data showing the incredibly high proportion of foreign-born players. I don’t have the quantitative comparison with, say, Italy, but qualitatively it seems that the Italian national squad is made up of home-grown stars who anchor their sides in a way that English clubs don’t have. So, it seems to me there are more foreign players in the EPL than any other major league.
Secondly, play around with the web site to see the change in percentages since 1989-1990. It is amazing! Back then there were only a couple per club, and even these were usually from the Empire or happened to be born overseas but had lived their lives in England. Now, the exact opposite is true with most clubs only having a few English-born players in their starting line up. In fact in 1989-1990, it wasn’t just that they were English-born, often they came from the same area in England that the club was based in! So players from the Northwest tended to play for Newcastle or Sunderland. This created even more local loyalty amongst fans of course. I grew up watching football in the 70s and 80s and believe that it was even less internationalized then and truly regional.
Thirdly, applying an American filter, think about how many Americans have played goal in the EPL in the past few years. I beleive many more than English! And you wonder why England doesn’t have an established world-class goalkeeper in its ational squad? Is it good than Americans can go and play in the EPL, or do we need them to stay here to strengthen the MLS. And, is the opposite true to the English experience – does going to England strengthen the quality of the American national team while weakening the English equivalent?!
Arsenal are usually the big EPL club held up as most non-English, and I believe they were the first to field a team totally devoid of Englishmen a few years ago. But looking at the stats it doesn’t seem like they are disproprtionate.
So, is this a good thing because it is good for EPL quality and helps the global reach of the game? Is it a bad thing because it hurts the development of great future English players. Or is it a non-issue, but a pretty web site to look at anyway?