Abandoning homegrown rule after Brexit could benefit both Premier League clubs and the England ...
PremiumAbandoning homegrown rule after Brexit could benefit both Premier League clubs and the England teamFollow the author of this articleFollow the topics within this article8 February 2020 • 10:30pmSaveSave Gareth Southgate's pool of England-qualified players in the Premier League is precious fewCredit:Getty Images
The summer transfer window: a time synonymous in the football calendar with two of the game’s most keenly-observed traditions, indecision and procrastination, which combine to compress an extensive trading period into a few days and nights of often poor decision-making. But what if we were to throw in an added element of risk to this annual festival of panic? The possibility that some of the multi-million pound acquisitions might be ineligible to play within a few months.
It certainly promises to put a different perspective on this summer window, in which one expects the biggest names in the Premier League will trade extensively given their relative inactivity during last month’s open market. Yet there is still on what the breakdown of a 25-man squad will look like post-Brexit when the transition period ends on Dec 31, while planning is long since underway for the summer.
As the Premier League’s 20 clubs will have been told at their shareholders’ meeting this week, the wise approach is to plan for all eventualities. The FA wants to raise the number of homegrown players in a squad from its existing level of eight to 12, with no work-permit restrictions on the other 13. The Premier League sees no reason to raise the homegrown quota, and wants the freedom to sign the remainder from wherever they wish to do so.
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The FA has the governing body’s endorsement, from which the government will take its lead. The Premier League, as it is keen to point out, pays the players, invests heavily in developing the homegrown talent and operates the competition in which all but one of Gareth Southgate’s current squad plays every week. Both entities recognise that Brexit is a historic moment for their respective constituencies: the most lucrative domestic sport league in the world and the England national team. Something will have to give.
There has to be a more sophisticated approach that rewards some of the richest clubs in the world for developing English talent – one that to their own concerns over maintaining numbers of native players in their top-flight Liga MX.
There, clubs have to ensure 2,000 minutes per full season for Mexican players aged 21 or under, a tariff which can be topped up by 50 per cent of the total minutes played by any native 22-year-olds. It encourages the constant development of young players and ongoing planning rather than squads relying on a core of eight homegrown players some of whom can be much older and of no use to a national team manager. One of whom is inevitably the third-choice goalkeeper.
The call this week from Premier League chief executive Richard Masters for a “dynamic” solution, one that “can’t just be about quotas,” is the first public indication that the two sides feel there is a viable way out of the current stand-off that goes to the heart of the English game.
Indeed, if it is just a simple back and forth over the quotas of overseas players permitted in a 25-man squad, one could see the game tumbling into its own version of a no-deal Brexit where every signing from outside the UK had to be assessed individually for their own work-permit viability. The answer will have to come from a compromise which recognises that what matters are game-time minutes for England qualified players [EQPs] rather than this dreary battle over the numbers in a squad.
Master acknowledged that a strong England team is desirable to the Premier League, and that the new system should be flexible. But in the end he will have to answer to the club owners and their priorities are clear. “We just don’t want to take any risks with the current system,” Masters said. “We don’t want to take any risks with the Premier League because it is phenomenally successful.” His opposite number at the FA, Mark Bullingham, also a recent appointment, is obliged to seize this opportunity to protect the future of the England team, on whose success or otherwise he will – history suggests – primarily be judged on by the public, regardless of what he does elsewhere.
After the 25th round of matches this season, the percentage of total minutes played in the Premier League by England-qualified players stood at 34.4 per cent, up from the all-time low of 29.9 per cent last season. The corresponding figure for this season among the big six clubs falls to 27.2 per cent. It is too early to say that the small upturn across the league marks a trend. The change has largely been driven by Chelsea’s transfer window embargo in the summer which forced them to play academy graduates, and the faith shown in English players by the three promoted clubs, Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa.
For Southgate, the difference is stark. In Spain, the national team manager Luis Enrique can choose from a league that has 60 per cent Spain-qualified players, not to mention those Spanish players overseas. In France it is 50 per cent and Italy and Germany both have more than 40 per cent as well as their émigré internationals elsewhere. By comparison, the England manager’s pool of talent is shrinking and even the five per cent increase this season does not get him close to the major nations with whom he must compete at the European championships this summer.
The FA has one card to play, its endorsement to government which, for now, still takes the view of the 156-year-old governing body over the modern financial behemoth that is the Premier League. The clubs have to understand this is a moment in history in which they can benefit from new rules that oblige all of them to give opportunities to the players coming out of the academies in which they have invested so heavily. Much as they dislike regulation, much as they have resisted any oversight from the FA in the past, this is one measure that would benefit us all.
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