Why the Premier League Needs a Foreign Player Quota

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 28:  Robin van Persie of Manchester United clashes with Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on April 28, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

So far this summer, Premier League clubs have signed 31 players between them. Of those fresh faces, just four are British.

That's a little over 12 percent, and they have been signed by two clubs. 

Even the most casual fan will be aware that the Premier League boasts a very strong contingent of overseas players. According to statistics obtained by the Mirror, 55.1 percent of players in the English top flight are foreign. In fact, only the Cypriote top flight can boast a greater proportion of non-domestic talent.

By contrast, in the inaugural season of the Premier League, 1992-93, there were only 13 foreign players in the entire league.

Even teams who used to pride themselves on fielding homegrown talent are showing signs of changing their ways. For many years, Manchester Utd have been the bastions of developing young British players to the highest level, but their only signing of the summer so far is 20-year-old Uruguayan defender Guillermo Varela, who has made one appearance for his hometown club, Penarol.

Since the Bosman ruling, there have been no restrictions on EU players passing freely between European leagues, and for the most part, the Premier League is better off for it. The wealth of continental—and international—talent on display every weekend is why the EPL is the most-watched league in the world.

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This is not an article with xenophobic intentions, it merely aims to point out the flip side of a cosmopolitan league filled with high-calibre international stars. The fans and clubs may benefit, but it is highly damaging to young English prospects.

Look no further than England's dismal performance at the European U21 Championships to see how much the Premier League is failing young talent. Of those precocious youngsters, how many will end up in a top flight first XI? Most will surely end up either in the Championship or rotting in the reserves of a bigger side, missing out on much-needed game time at the highest level and unlikely to make the transition to the full England side.

Former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham is aware of the problem, calling the Euro U21 failure "the loudest warning sign that we're not giving young English players the opportunity to come through" in an article by the Daily Mail's Joe Bernstein.

In the same article, FA chairman Andy Bernstein concurs with the damaging effect of the top flight, saying "I've got a lot of respect for the Premier League but its success has put the game out of balance."

The problem is predominantly economic: The best English talent comes with a premium price tag. Liverpool spent nearly £100 million on Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Joe Allen, but they definitely haven't seen £100 million worth of results on the field.

Manchester City spent millions on Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell last August, both of whom have made relatively little impact.

Meanwhile, the economic downturn of many La Liga sides has turned it into an outlet mall for Premier League clubs. Why pay £20 million for a Jordan Henderson when you could go to Spain and pick up a Michu for a 10th of that price?

And why would a club spend millions developing a player at academy level when someone of similar youth and quality could be bought cheaply from overseas?

For the sake of football development and the English national team, the Premier League seriously needs to introduce a foreign player quota.

Currently, the Premier League operates a "homegrown rule," where clubs cannot name more than 17 non-homegrown players aged over 21 and must name a 25-man squad with at least eight "homegrown" players in it.

This is a step in the right direction, but it is not a limit on foreign players, as the definition of "homegrown" is having played three years in the English system under the age of 21. So, since Cesc Fabregas moved from Barcelona to Arsenal at the age of 15, he would have counted as "homegrown."

Several other leagues have also taken steps to improve their national teams. After the 2010 World Cup, Italy restricted the number of non EU players Serie A clubs could field.

In the Russian Premier League, meanwhile, clubs can field no more than seven foreign players at any point (this was raised from six last season).

When the idea of a Premier League foreign player quota was mooted a few years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson pooh-poohed the idea. "We have the strongest and the most entertaining League in the world; we should celebrate that, not denigrate it," he told The Guardian's Louise Taylor, dismissing the "hysteria" around England's lack of qualification for Euro 2008.

The England team's continued lack of success five years later, however, surely means action needs to be taken, even if it risks upsetting the Premier League's winning formula.

With the opening of the impressive St George's Park complex, the FA are starting to show a long-overdue commitment to developing grassroots football in England. But when the lucky youngsters at St George's end up at the large modern training facility of a Premier League side—completely separated from interaction with the first team—their opportunity to play at the highest level starts to whither.

For this reason, the Premier League needs to act now.