Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thoughts on Gary Neville's suggested foreign player quota in Premier League

In recent seasons much has been made of the influx of foreign players into the Premier League. Last season foreign players made up 62% of Premier League squads. The top five teams from 2012-2013 have so far brought in 13 new players during the summer transfer window- none have been from a Home Nations country. Those five teams have sold or loaned 16 British players. Of those 16 only Steven Caulker moved to another Premier League side.

As sides continue to spend money on non-British players, opportunities for young British footballers to ply their trade at the top of the domestic league have diminished and there is a growing sentiment that, as a result, British national teams are falling behind their continental counterparts. This summer England's under 21 and under 20 sides were eliminated in the group stages of the U-21 European Championship and U-20 World Cup respectively without having won a game in either competition.

Early this week Gary Neville suggested a quota system on foreign players needs to be introduced in the Premier League. The former Manchester United and England right back said,
"When I came through in the mid-1990s there was a rule where only a limited number of foreign players could be included in a team during European competition. We benefited from that because, as young British players, we got opportunities. We need to get back something of that ilk - where each team has three or four players from the home countries at the start of every match. My chances of making it as a pro footballer at the age of 18 in 2013 would be a lot less than 20 years ago. A talented 18-year-old today has to hope he's at the right club with the right manager who believes in young players. But it's become so short-term."
Neville's comment on the short-termism of modern English football was an especially astute one. With the financial pressures at stake of avoiding relegation and qualifying for European competition, there are incentives for club owners to invest in foreign talent that can come in and immediately have an impact on a club's league position. Likewise, there are incentives for managers to play foreign players with more experience than domestic ones. In today's Premier League, a manager's job security depends on how they perform in the short term. Developing young British players takes time- a luxury Premier League managers are rarely given. If an established foreign midfielder gives a side a better shot at avoiding relegation than a young British one, of course a manager is going to field the foreign player. Both owners and managers are simply responding to the incentives in front of them and it is young British players who are losing out. If rules aren't put in place guaranteeing playing time for British players, owners and managers aren't going to voluntarily change their behavior.

Neville's suggested quota system of 3 to 4 players from home countries starting every match is one way to ensure the involvement of British players in the Premier League. I think 3 to 4 players is a decent number to ensure more young British players are coming up through the ranks and getting their shot. If the quota was upped to 5 or 6 British players to start every match, I think you run the risk of significantly watering down the competition. World class foreigners raise the level of the competition and force British players to improve in order to compete. Playing in the Premier League won't do young players any good if the quality of the competition is significantly diminished by the departure of world class foreign players. 

The chart below shows the number of Premier League minutes played by English players under the age of 25 for each team in the 2012-2013 season (I did not include Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh players in the chart). Unsurprisingly, Paul Lambert's youthful Aston Villa side led the league with 12,091 minutes played by English players 24 years or younger. Arsene Wenger gave more minutes to English players under 25 than any other top five manager- unsurprising given his long and relatively secure tenure at Arsenal has provided him the time to develop young players.

What are your thoughts? Should the Premier League establish a quota system on the number of foreign players? Would it help the development of young English players and improve the English national team?

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