Where Have All the Englishmen Gone at Chelsea?
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"I must admit, 12 months ago when everybody was going big on Newcastle and we enjoyed everything they did last year, we talked about this genius scouting system, that they could go and pick up players in France and all the rest of it. Well I'm not having it," he fumed on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football show.
"Seven players on that pitch in the second half were from France," he continued, reflecting on the Magpie's Liverpool defeat. "But forget France, they could be from Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Spain [or] Argentina. For me, it's gone too far. It cannot be right.
"It's staring us in the face. I've seen it with QPR and I've seen it with Newcastle. The soul and identity is being ripped out of the heart of these clubs. It's gone too far. Far too far, in my opinion."
It was a damning indictment from a man who is earning just as much respect for his opinions off the pitch as he did while representing the Red Devils and England on it.
The point Neville was making is this: While overseas players have helped make the Premier League what it is today, there comes a time when clubs need to keep their policy of foreign recruitment in check. There needs to be a backbone built on local, indigenous talent.
Evidently, he feels that time is now for Newcastle. Looking at Chelsea's squad, perhaps it's that time at Stamford Bridge as well.
The Blues may be on the brink of Champions League qualification for next season—while also competing in next week's Europa League Final against Benfica—but there has been no disguising their shortcomings this season.
In pursuit of playing the "perfect" football craved by owner Roman Abramovich, the club has turned its back on what made it great under Jose Mourinho in the early years of Abramovich's ownership, instead recruiting an embarrassment of riches when it comes to overseas talent.
Millions have been spent on David Luiz, Fernando Torres, Ramires, Juan Mata and the like to deliver success, but it seems one thing has been missing—Englishmen. In fact, the Blues have signed just three—Daniel Sturridge, Ross Turnbull and Gary Cahill—since Mourinho was fired in 2007.
This isn't to say that acquiring English players will mean an end to Chelsea's troubles—it won't. What it will mean, though, is the club will have a framework to build on.
There's also something to be said for local knowledge. In England and across Europe, the most successful teams in this term have driven home this fact perhaps more than ever.
Manchester United—the new Premier League champions—have eight Englishmen who are regulars in their first team, while neighbors and Premier League runners-up City have seven.
There's more to it than a simple algorithm of homegrown players equal success, of course, but the trend cannot be ignored, either.
Within days of being appointed Chelsea manager in 2004, Mourinho outlined his intent. The Portuguese made John Terry captain and built his team around him and Frank Lampard. He later added Ashley Cole in 2006 to an English contingent that also included Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Chelsea won back-to-back titles and a host of other silverware under Mourinho, with those Englishmen at the heart of their success. It was the same at Inter Milan, where Mourinho won the 2010 Champions League with a squad including no fewer than seven Italian first-team players.
Should Chelsea sign more English players?
Indeed, his Chelsea team was lauded across Europe, and they had the right blend to ensure balance within a multinational squad. Since then, it's been diluted to the point that English supremacy is being challenged by a wave of Brazilians and Spanish at Stamford Bridge, with just two Englishmen often seen in the starting XI.
It must be concerning to Chelsea fans that with Cole, Terry and Lampard on the wrong side of 30, their expected long-term replacements are from overseas. Take those three out of the club, and what is Chelsea left with?
We've seen enough to suggest Chelsea's track back to success is the right one, but without more homegrown influence, how long will it be before the Blues Express is derailed once more?
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