Impact Of Foreign Players In European Leagues–EPL
Football has truly become a global game. With its spread across the world—never so prominent than in this millennium—every major European league is able to attract hidden talent from every corner of the planet. This has subsequently changed the demographics of the best leagues in terms of its first XI as well as the full squad. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings to you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Sit back, relax, and let Goalden Times take you on an incredible trip. The fifth and final instalment of this series features EPL.
They say save the best for the last. While no one in his/ her right sense of mind would call the English Premier League, the top professional football league in the English football league system, the best in the world, no one can deny its universal appeal. Five EPL clubs find themselves in the top eight of the Forbes’ Richest Football Clubs list in 2015. The top 20 list features eight English clubs, whereas Spain and Germany barely manage to have three representatives each. This is when Manchester United, the top English club in the list, could not make it to the Champions League, Liverpool has appeared in the top continental competition only once in this decade, and poor performances of other giants of English football are about to cost them a spot in the Champions League!
Still, these clubs remain among the most decorated clubs in modern football. A huge following worldwide, especially in the Asian market, has resulted in an incredible TV deal worth $ 2.56 billion (2014–15 figure) for this tournament. The figure for the nearest rival (Serie A) is not even 40% of this, and the combined total for other top four leagues in Italy, Spain, Germany, and France barely manages to surpass this number. Things will get more lopsided from 2016 when a new TV deal is expected to increase the earnings for English clubs by more than 70%! Coupled with this, the investments made by billionaires at the top as well as middle and lowly clubs in England have meant that they are able to attract and offer incredible packages to star players from all around the world. However, is that proving to be beneficial to the clubs? Does an influx of talent from every corner of the globe guarantee success?
Let us try to see how the game has changed in EPL under the influence of foreign signings and how the top teams have performed. For our calculations, we have taken the top five clubs in the league since the 2010–11 season.
The Spurs recently achieved the distinction of offering the most number of players to Three Lions in the last three years. While it is an honour,lack of ambition and a questionable seller attitude have left the club in a state of stagnation. Over the past few years they have been constantly revamping their squad—buying greenhorns and little-known youngsters and trying to see if they can be made to fit into the existing setup. This is not exactly an environment that can vouch for stability. Players like Rafael van der Vaart, Sadro, Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Vlad Chiriches, and Étienne Capoue have all been in and out through the revolving door. Some might argue that this major overhaul was a direct consequence of the departure of their star player Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in 2013–14. However,the Spurs were already aware of the consequences when they sold him (for a bounty, at that). They have not really done justice to their kitty in the four to five transfer windows that have come around since then. As a result, they find themselves stagnated just outside the top four berth, agonisingly losing out on the lucrative Champions League spot. The Lilywhiteshave been dismal in cup competitions—both domestically and in Europe—even after steadily increasing the quota of foreign players in their squad. While Bale was around, the North London club had beat both the Milan clubs in the 2010–11 Champions League and reached the semis of the FA Cup the following year. However, nothing has been won since then! It’s a classic case of quantity over quality for the Spurs, and it has not worked so far.
Many Europeans consider Arsenal to be the ideal representative of English football. They have an abundance of mediocrity, something that today’s EPL is known for. They have not threatened the top spot for a while, but have always managed to hang on to the last couple of places for a Champions League spot. And there, they have never been shambolic enough to crash out of the group stages, but yet not too greedy to venture past the next round. Manager Arsene Wenger ended the agony of trophy drought by winning back-to-back FA cups recently. However, die-hard Arsenal fans would want to see more of their team, arguably the best to watch on field in the country. The club has never been too shy to acquire foreign talents— Wenger created history by fielding the first ever foreign team (including the ones on the bench) on Valentine’s Day in 2005 in a league match. However, compelled by the home-grown player regulation in the league, Arsenal had no choice but to slowly cut down on their foreign adventures. Still,the club has consistently maintained the highest percentage of foreign players in the top English clubs over the years. Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez still form the backbone of the team. On the other hand, selling star players like Cesc Fàbregas, Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy, and Robin van Persie to rival teams did little good to their unwanted tag of “selling club”.However, like their London rivals, the Gunners too seem to miss that zeal or thrust to push the envelope and go for more.
Chelsea revolutionised English football at the start of the millennium, through its billionaire owner Roman Abramovic. Attracting world-class talent and offering them whopping wages became the norm of the day. Success followed, and since then, Chelsea has emerged as the biggest club in London. The club has surely but steadily became the lone flag bearer for the country in Europe. They have also been spot-on in prioritizing their goals—amidst a lacklustre league campaign in 2011–12, they sacrificed the EPL to achieve an unprecedented domestic and European cup (their sole Champions League honour) double win. They followed it up with another continental glory, the Europa League, the following year. Chelsea finally ended their EPL drought by winning it last season after a hiatus of five years. In this period, Chelsea has increased their dependence on eye-catching foreign talents—Thibaut Courtois, Kurt Zouma, César Azpilicueta, Ramires, Cesc Fàbregas, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Diego Costa—. English players, though just a few, have found it difficult at Stamford Bridge. Club veterans and icons like Frank Lampard have been shown the door, John Terry sees his days being numbered, and even the youth products like Josh McEachran and Ryan Bertrand had to leave to look for regular playing times elsewhere. The Blues have got continued success with their talent acquisition model, and there seems to be no reason why they should change it. At least for the time being.
Manchester United FC
Manchester United is arguably the most decorated of English clubs. Currently, they are in a state of transition.They became the most successful club in England, winning the league for a record 20th time, and then their legendary manager called it a day after more than quarter of a century at the helm. That was followed by an unthinkable turmoil and spending big to buy a champion team—all of these in the space of last five years. But they have to now dig deep into the pool of local talent – even if that costs more – to maintain their tag of “English club”, something they have been very proud of. Rio Ferdinand has been replaced by Chris Smalling, John O’shea by Phil Jones, Ji-Sung Park by Ashley Young, Alexander Büttner by Luke Shaw, and so on. That is why, even after uncharacteristically spending and raising every eyebrow in the transfer market, Manchester United’s foreign player percentage last year (42.02%) was almost the same as it was in 2012–13 (40.00%), its last season with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge. In this period of transition, naturally, their form has plateaued.From title contenders, they have now been reduced to vying for the coveted Champions League spot. The European battle has certainly taken a back seat. The next couple of seasons are expected to tell us if the club can be back on track or not.
Manchester City FC
Last but not the least, let’s talk about Manchester City.It is the club that has leapfrogged over many of its established counterparts to become the number one club in England in recent years. Buoyed by their billionaire owner, they just outdid Chelsea in their own game. An FA Cup, two EPL crowns, and two runner-up finishes just sum it for them in the last half a decade. It is true that they have been dismal in the Champions League. However, sample this—they had two eventual semi finalists in their group once, and were twice knocked out by Barcelona, possibly the team that will go down as one of the best in the history of club football. Manchester City today attracts the biggest of names from all around the world. Be it Yaya Touré, David Silva or Sergio Agüero—the Citizens have not been deprived of star signings in recent years. They have boosted their bench strengths with quality signings as well. Even fringe players in this club are better than the playing team of many. All of this has come at the cost of local talent—people like Adam Johnson, Scott Sinclair, Gareth Barry, Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell have all been dropped to make way for more lucrative names. The results are there for everyone to see.
Manchester United are in transition and it explains the frequent ups and downs in their graph. Arsenal, out of the financial burden of their new stadium, are now looking to acquire global talents to augment their already affluent stock of local youngsters. However, overall, the trend is alarming.
The top five clubs examined in this article are guilty of using the fewest number of UK players.English players today account for less than a third of playing time, as compared to 69% of playing time two decades back.
There has been a growing concern over the lack of English/ UK players in the English top flight. More alarmingly, the top five clubs examined in this article are guilty of using the fewest number of UK players.English players today account for less than a third of playing time, as compared to 69% of playing time two decades back. Amdist this alarming situation, FA chairman Greg Dyke’s commission came up with an“ambitious but realistic” target of increasing the number of English players in the Premier League to 45% by 2022. This is still substantially less than the figure we see in Spain or Germany (which generally hovers around the 60% mark).
Nevertheless, it is a positive outlook. However, when was the last time English top flight saw that figure of 45%? In the year 2000!
English national football has paid the price for such cosmopolitan nature of the league. They have given little or no chance to their young players in order for them to be groomed for the big stage.As a result, they got knocked out of the group stages of the World Cup in 2014. And this is not accident.They have never made it to the last four of a World Cup since 1990. In the Euros, their last semi final appearance was way back in 1996. So the debate continues—do fans want a league where English players are given more chances to prosper at the top clubs and help the national team? Or does the fan want to enjoy watching some of the best players in the world?
Dyke also wants to convince the Premier League clubs to increase the number of home grown players in their 25-man squads from 8 to 12. Moreover, he wants to have the criteria of homegrown even stricter, so that players need to be registered for three years prior to turning 18, rather than (the current regulation of) 21.
Naturally, Dyke is facing a lot of criticism from the top-flight clubs. Arsene Wenger has hit out at him, citing the poor performance of the national team at various age group levels. If there is talent, it will find its way—just like Raheem Sterling or Hary Kane. However, how many Kanes are going unnoticed due to lack of playing time? Nobody knows.
The arguments will continue. But one thing is for sure—the English Premier League is set to rule the charts at least for a few more years to come. If not the best league in the world, it definitely is the best amalgamation of world-class players across the globe.
This brings us to the conclusion of the series—Impact of Foreign Players In European Leagues. You can read the previous instalments here. . Keep watching this space!