Yesterday, Greg Dyke, the new chairman of the English Football Association made his first keynote speech, making clear his vision and goals for his tenure. His number one aim—to win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—could only be achieved, he said, if the number of English players in the Premier League increased dramatically. The talent pool from which Roy Hodgson will build his England squad from, he believes “is very small and it is getting smaller.”
He has a point. The number of English players in the Premier League has diminished considerably since the league’s conception in 1992. In August of that first season, 73.1% of players in its teams starting 11s were English. This season that figure was a mere 33.6%.
Yet, the reaction from the general public has been baffling. When Mesut Ozil joined Arsenal on transfer deadline-day, it issued the end of a four-year wait for Arsene Wegner’s side to sign a top draw player. During this waiting period, the club’s emphasis and focus on the nurturing of young, English talent in the youth academy and beyond was constantly under fire from the club’s supporters. They questioned Wegner’s actions regularly, saying that these homegrown players were simply not good enough and that a big signing was needed. Now that he has finally brushed the dust off his cheque book, there has been an uproar that the league’s managers are not doing enough to create more top quality English players.
But what incentives do managers have to raise their own talent when there may be a better option overseas? Besides, of the 20 managers in the league, only four (20%) are English. The other 80% have no allegiance to the national side and are therefore unlikely to go out of their way to build a squad with a strong English contingent.
In his speech, Dyke outlined one possible solution to this: a cap on the number of foreign players at any one club. We must ask ourselves however, what will this achieve? Even when the talent pool was larger, England only won one trophy, on home soil. A larger talent pool does not automatically equal success.
Then again, what if we were to turn the table on its head? Perhaps the importing of foreign players is not the problem. What if it is the lack English exports that are the problem? Take Belgium for example, a team who are looking increasingly dangerous after a prolonged lack of threat on the international stage. Only 3 players of the current 24-man squad play in Belgium. Others, from Hazard, Fellaini and Kompany, through to Mertens and Captain Van Buyten, have all benefited from playing abroad. They have had to change their game, adapt to new league environments and have come out much better players.
One radical change Greg Dyke should set his sights on is to have a greater say in the way the Premier League is ran. The league, which has its own agenda, is against the World Cup’s proposed move from June and July to December. The Qatar summer heat, in which Dyke strives to see England achieve glory in, will be a huge hindrance to the players. These are tough conditions for any player, but ones that may well suit the likes of Brazil and Argentina a little more. If the tournament were to be moved to December, England players will find the conditions a little more favourable.
The enemy it would seem then is perhaps not the foreign players applying their trade in England, but the Premier League itself.
This is indeed something which Dyke has at least touched upon. One of the benefits of the creation of the Premier League was to "enhance the prospects of the England team." Yet, here we are seeing the Premier League being contradictory and counterintuitive. Thus, Dyke mentioned the fact that these benefits had been neglected. He will now chair meetings with officials from the Premier League and Football League and perhaps his passion and optimism will hit home.
Another change that could be made comes down to the England manager, Roy Hodgson. As much as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are top class players, it may be of benefit for Hodgson to start fielding a squad that, for the most part at least, could still be recognizable in 2022. Jack Butland, come the finals in Qatar, will be 31, Zaha 31, Ross Barkley 30 and Liverpool’s Chuba Akpom 26. While new players will inevitably move into the fold, if England rely on the same players now as they will be able to in 2022, they may just forge a title-contending squad.
Who knows what the future may hold?
What we do know though, is that Greg Dyke has made a strong opening statement, whose intent may just be exactly what the national team needs.