Stevie G is Xenophobic!

Not really.

I’m just auditioning for a tabloid headline writing gig. (A boy needs to pay the bills and streetwalking just isn’t what it used to be)

While the Premier League continues to enjoy continued success (especially in the financial department), the debate over Foreign vs. British talent has reignited (since it’s constantly smoldering). Does the constant influx of non-British talent actually weaken English football?

You’re familiar with the argument: As more foreigners come to play in England, homegrown talent doesn’t get the chances it historically was afforded to develop because now there are less spots available and therefore less time for the talent to grow. Instead they’re forced to prove themselves (and fail) before they’ve had a realistic amount of time to blossom and mature.

gerrardnomore.jpgNow our own Captain Fantastic has voiced his opinion that a limit on the number of foreign players in the English leagues would likely (or more realistically, hopefully) help the woeful English national team improve.

Gerrard’s words:

I’m sure it won’t do any harm and I’m sure it would help the national team. We want as many homegrown players in that league as possible. It is important we keep producing players. There is no point having the best league in the world if the national team is going to suffer in the long run

I think there is a risk of too many foreign players coming over, which would affect our national team eventually if it’s not already.

We all want one thing at the end of the day, we want our national team to be very good and our league to be good. You always think to yourself the top English players will come through and play but there are some who are late developers and they get pushed to the back of the queue because there are too many foreign players.

The foreigners have helped raise the standard of our game but if you want to be greedy you would want English players to raise that standard further.

Just like anybody, I have my own opinions on the matter. And since you’ve asked so nicely, yes, I will share them with you.

The argument against unlimited foreigners certainly has its merits. But this isn’t about the top-tier talents like a Torres. It’s about the other 95%, the non-superstars. There really is no denying that as cheaper/younger players come in, they are in direct competition with their English counterparts. The problem is, those that have been bought and brought to England are often more developed and further advanced in their skills. In addition, ‘buying British’ tends to be much more expensive, so bringing in a highly-rated 18-year old from Norway instead of Leicester can save a manager a few million of pounds, allowing him to make the most of that shoestring budget.

I can’t blame the clubs for chasing the most promising targets while keeping a budget in mind. And with the constant ‘club vs. country’ struggles, why would a club (i.e. a business) generally care about the success (or lack thereof) of a national team?

My problem with this whole English argument is that the English national team really has never been all that great. Quite honestly, it’s historically been a squad with fantastic names whose parts tend to be greater than its sum. The team constantly underachieves in major tournaments and boasts (or more accurately, promotes) a reputation which is incredibly disjointed from its actual credentials.

Before 1995 and the Bosman ruling, there were limits on the number of foreigners in the game. Each matchday squad could only field three non-British players. And how did that work out for the English national team? I see to remember them missing out on qualification for the 1994 World Cup. Their lone success? 1966. Since then? Nothing. (Yes, yes… ‘Hand of God’, I know…)

Now, one could make the argument that while the actual on-pitch success of the Three Lions can’t be guaranteed with foreigner limits, the grooming of talent has been hampered and England is unlikely to see another batch of sublime stars properly groomed while the top clubs babysit Europe’s young talent. But why couldn’t that displaced talent find a home at the countless number of lower league or ‘smaller’ clubs?

Outside of an argument that they won’t receive the same level of coaching they’d be treated to at a ‘big’ club, I have a hard time believing that the lower leagues are infested with foreigners. Take a look at the rosters of a club like Nottingham Forest and tell me how many non-Brits are on it.

I remain unconvinced any limit would actually help the Premier League or the national team in the long run. Obviously, in the short term, it certainly would not be beneficial. The instant talent vacuum created by the absence of foreign players would create a rushed boom market for British players (not to mention, lower the standard of play), inflating already over-inflated prices for inferior players.

Not to say they wouldn’t get better, but there is only so much actual ability to go around right now. The top clubs would slug it out for the cream of the crop and likely would do their best to stockpile anything that looked remotely promising. The smaller clubs would be left to sort through the rubbish. While the distribution of talent may eventually work itself out over time, allowing smaller/poorer clubs to cultivate homegrown talent without having it immediately poached, the short-term damage would be swift and severe.

As for the effect on England’s fortunes, the biggest threat to the English national team has been itself. The two biggest culprits, in my eyes, are the coaching and the mindset. The FA needs to decided whether it wants the Three Lions to be ‘English’ or ‘great’. Right now, by having appointed McClaren in lieu of the other much more talented coaches that were available at the time, they’ve chosen to go ‘English’. If they actually want to win something, next time they’ll select the best available coach and strive to be ‘great’.

There’s plenty of young talent available to the national team right now — Theo Walcott, Micah Richards, Scott Carson, Gabby Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and Gareth Bale just to name a few. Besides, with the collection of supposed World-Class talent on the team now, what’s been achieved?

But none of this is really the point of my post (um, after 800-some words). All the posturing is really for naught and is essentially a moot point since such limits are effectively illegal, as they violate European Union trade law. The Bosman ruling was the genesis for the abolition of those rules and all efforts since then to circumvent them have repeatedly been struck down. So, Sepp Blatter should probably stick to issues he has more experience and success with, like corruption.

(I will, say, however, I could actually get behind Platini’s idea of keeping youngsters closer to home through their formative teenage years, despite the implausibility of it.)

But, nonetheless, Stevie G’s words got me thinking.

What if, magically, a limit on foreign (non-English, Scot or Welsh) players were reinstated? Who would you keep?

While the old rule limited the number of foreigners included on any match teamsheet, let’s say this new fantasy rule actually curbs the number of non-Brits on the books at any one club. If the old matchday limit was three, then the ‘new’ limit is five. That way, even if the team decided to play all its foreigners in one game, the majority of the squad on the field would still be British. (Whomever the British version of Lou Dobbs, he’d be appeased)

Firstly, who stays at Liverpool? Not an easy question because we currently boast quite a roster of talented players from various nations in both the first team and the youth set-up. Ignoring the Academy and the army of foreign youngsters Rafa has amassed, I’m selecting those I believe would be most difficult to replace in terms of sheer talent and contribution to the team. Yet, it’s certainly no easy task.

In no particular order…

  1. Pepe Reina
  2. Fernando Torres
  3. Xabi Alonso
  4. Daniel Agger
  5. Lucas Leiva

I think the first four selections speak for themselves. Reina is one of the top ten goalkeepers in the world, so letting him go (especially before he even hits his prime) would be insanity. While Scott Carson could certainly step in and no doubt do an admirable job, I have to rate Reina well ahead of him. Besides, under these new rules, Scott would fetch more than a pretty penny on the transfer market.

Torres is a game changer and match winner. A real no-brainer as he’s our most talented striker, regardless of nationality. There’s no way I’m parting ways with El Nino.

Xabi’s influence has most certainly been missed during his metatarsal injury and has given us a glance at what life without him would be like. I, for one, haven’t enjoyed that glimpse. Tell me the squad wouldn’t be better off without him.

The same goes for the DAgger, having already become a cornerstone of the defense at such a young age. Under my new rule, each foreigner you keep better justify themselves and he has already done that in spades.

It’s Lucas’ inclusion that would likely draw the most criticism. Why Lucas instead of Mascherano? While Masch is obviously a fantastic player, I can’t help but think the young Brazilian has the potential to be close to as much of an impact player on both sides of the ball as Steven Gerrard. The captain himself has even mused on the subject, calling the youngster a true ‘box-to-box’ midfielder. While sacrificing a young, proven talent like Mascherano for another player who might pan out, methinks there’s nothing wrong with 20% of my foreign investment being reserved for speculation.

But of the 33-some players who were assigned a squad number this season, that leaves roughly 17 who wouldn’t make the cut. I’m talking about names like Finnan, Riise, Sissoko, Voronin and Kuyt (amongst others). Replacing them would be a daunting task, especially considering the competition from the likes of United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Yet, it would have to be done, right?

And you thought Tottenham overpaid for Darren Bent this summer? Just you wait!


13 Responses to “Stevie G is Xenophobic!”

  1. 1 James Dudek November 15, 2007 at 9:54 am

    Nail. Head. Hit.

    In my opinion it comes down to not having that one truly dominant world class player (e.g. a Maradonna or a Ronaldo at their peaks) and a little bit of luck. That stacks up over the years and a siege mentality is created (especially by the tabloid papers). Over time this means that the England managers would rather play not to lose than try to win.

    Cutting down the number of foreigners in the EPL would not help in the slightest.

  2. 2 Agent Johnson November 15, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    National team aside. If you want to consider yourself the “best league in the world” in any given sport, you have to allow the best players to play. Cases in point, both the MLB and NBA. Consider the increasing foreign influence in both leagues and tell me why they continue to dominate the world market. Both the NBA and MLB realize that they can increase popularity in their specific market while simultaneously restricting other foreign markets from progressing. If the EPL decided (which it won’t) to restrict the aquisition of foreign players, the spanish and itialian leagues would immediately compete to fill the top spot.

    How about the English national team play together a little more? Gerrard’s logic (for once) is fucked.

  3. 3 Jen November 15, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Gareth Bale is Welsh, isn’t he?

    Apart from that, I agree with you that attempting to impose a limit on the number of foreign players wouldn’t do anything to address the real problems with the England team — the lack of a quality youth development system and the idiocy of the FA and McClaren.

  4. 4 mike November 17, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I think the real problem with the English national team is that England proper isn’t that big of a country (in terms of population). IIRC there are around 50 million people in England (with another 10 million or so in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland). Contrast that with the populations of Germany (82 million), Italy (60 million), France (64 million), or Brazil (183 million)…

    The English and the other UK nations are really handicapping themselves by not playing as a unified national team. Can you imagine what the ’86 England team would have been like with Ian Rush (Wales) partnering with Gary Lineker? Or George Best (N. Ireland) teaming up with Kenny Dalgish (Scotland) and Kevin Keegan (England) on a UK team in the 70s? It’s as though Germany were fielding squads from Bavaria and Saxony rather than a national team…or France having squads from Normandy and Alsace-Lorraine. Ridiculous.

  5. 5 Georger November 21, 2007 at 11:53 am

    wouldnt the Kolpak ruling preclude this from happening anyways?

  6. 6 beingsven November 21, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    A unified Britain/UK team is highly unlikely to ever happen. Although, there have been talks of fielding one for the Olympics as a sort of ‘test’.

    Interestingly, Spain does have regional national teams, like a Basque and Catalan and so on… I don’t know how often they actually play (obviously unrecognized by FIFA in the true int’l sense), but they historically play games over the Christmas break.

    But, I don’t think population is England’s problem. They have plenty of talent, they just don’t execute. When was the last time they put together a comprehensive 90 minutes against a quality opponent?

    I shudder to think what a Martin O’Neill would have done motivation-wise with this group.

  7. 7 mike November 21, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Sven: Point taken. Would be nice to have a bigger talent pool though.

    Allow me to expand on my thesis a little bit though…

    It seems to me that England have greater expectations put on them because they are covered so heavily by English-speaking media, be it in the U.K., Canada, the U.S. (to the extent we get any mainstream soccer coverage of foreign soccer, it tends to focus on England and the Premiership) or the rest of the English-speaking world. That tends to give the impression that the English national team represents a larger nation than it really does (again, only ~50 million people in England proper, plus the Hargreaves family in Canada). Perhaps that affects the team’s performance, but I doubt it. It probably just affects our expectations of them.

  8. 8 Georger November 21, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    sven are you suggesting martin would have done worse? id be shocked if you were honestly

  9. 9 beingsven November 21, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    No, I’m saying Martin O’Neill would have that squad motivated, blood-thirsty and ready to go to battle.

    And he certainly wouldn’t sit on his hands like McClaren repeatedly did.

  10. 10 Keith November 21, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    (I preface this post by stating that I’m pretty new to the soccer world, so here goes.)

    I apologize if this question lowers the level of discourse here, but can someone explain to me the significance of England’s loss? I admit to being rather ignorant to the situation, but this Euro 2008 — I don’t know if it’s fair to put it on these terms, but is it as big a tournament as the World Cup?

  11. 11 beingsven November 21, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Keith, ask away.

    It’s not as big, but I (as well as most European-centric footy fans) would rate it as #2 behind the WC. Quite frankly, I’d say because it’s a smaller tournament and the concentration of talent is highest in Europe (apologies to S. America), the level of play is probably slightly higher because the dead weight teams like Iran or South Africa aren’t included like in the WC.

    Plus, following European leagues, we tend to know a bit more collectively about the teams and players than those from all around the globe.

    And England is fancied as one of the ‘big teams’ in the world of international soccer, so there’s always a bit of noise when a supposed ‘power’ (and we use that term with England very loosely) misses out on a major tournament. Other such teams that fall into that category would (historically) be Italy, Germany, Brazil and Argentina just to name a few.

  12. 12 Georger November 21, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    whew okay just making sure. yeah i think martin would be a great choice, and sadly he might be too happy at villa right now. but that son of a bitch knows how to create exciting play

  13. 13 Alex May 7, 2008 at 11:34 am

    England doesn’t need limits on foreign players. It needs a decent youth development program. It needs decent referrees and fans who are taught not to abuse the ref throughout the game. It needs to teach it’s players (at all levels) to respect the officials. It needs to pull it’s head out of the sand, realize we are in the 21st centry and find some technology to help the match officials. It needs to deal with issues like the fact that breaking someone’s leg into 3 pieces results in the same (or possibly smaller) punishment as a open-handed slap to the face. Eg. M Taylor received a 3 game suspension for the Eduardo tackle but J Aliadiere is given 4 games for an open handed slap. There are a number of issues that the FA have and having too many foreign players isn’t one of them.

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