Yesterday the chairman of the FA Greg Dyke outlined his vision for the future of English football over the coming years. Dyke’s stated objective is for the English national side to win the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

This bold aim may seem far-fetched given the national team’s record in major tournaments over recent years, and perhaps a more suitable target would be to reach the semi-finals consistently over a period of time. If we say as a country that we want to win the World Cup in 2022 we are setting ourselves up to fail. But in order to achieve greater success overall at international level a number of things have to change.

When the English transfer window slammed shut at 11pm on Monday it exposed some quite frankly frightening statistics. Out of the £630million spent in the summer window, only £60million was spent on English players – a worrying reminder of the foreign influence in the English Premier League.

If you’re more into percentages, it works out that 90% of the money was spent on foreign players, and last year just 32% of players used in the Premier League were English – this has to change.

Dyke stated that English football is currently ‘a tanker that needs turning’. So the biggest question is how do we do this?

1.      Fix Grassroots Football – Style and Schooling:


England currently has 1,161coaches at Uefa ‘A’ level.  If we compare this to Spain, the World Champions have 12, 720 ‘A’ licence coaches and it’s the same story in Germany, where they have 5,500.

Pro licence level at Grassroots also throws up some equally alarming numbers. England currently has 203 coaches with a pro licence. Compare this with Spain’s’ 2,140 and Germany’s 1,000 and there is an obvious disparity.

One way for Dyke to ‘turn around’ this foreign tanker is to train more fully paid youth team coaches to nurture English talent from a young age.

Aside from the numbers game, there also needs to be a shift in the way in which young English players are taught to play the game.  Youngsters need to be trained to play in a bold and attacking way that allows them to play with both freedom and confidence, and this style needs to be replicated from the youth teams to the senior sides.

A perfect example of this would be Holland, and in particular their biggest club: Ajax. The youth academy is renowned as ‘the model everyone seeks to emulate’.

The club plays the so-called ‘Total Football’ approach in a 4-3-3 system and it is this ideology that makes Ajax stand out across Europe; the adoption of a single philosophy which everyone working at the club gets taught at an early age is admirable. They let their footballers express themselves freely on the pitch without any restrictions. The basic goal of the club is that they bring through at least three players into the first team every two years, anything less than this is seen as a massive failure. This process begins right at the bottom of the pyramid with player recruitment.

The youth team is trained in the same way as the first team, so players who make it are already accustomed to Ajax’s style of play, training, and behaviour and house rules.

There are around 220 youth players at the club at all times and in the Eredivisie at least 30% of the players have been trained at Ajax at some point in their careers – a remarkable statistic and something which England can only look at in envy at the present time.

2.      A change in Premier League mentality:

The Premier League is widely regarded as ‘the best league in the world’ and few would dispute that claim. Week after week the best players on the planet excite a global audience, but just how ‘English’ is the English Premier League.

The brutal answer is not very at all. When the Premier League was set up in 1992 69% of players in the starting line ups were English. In 2002, this figure had dropped to 38%, and now stands at just 32% as previously mentioned.

In his speech yesterday Dyke talked of ‘unintended consequences’, where nobody at the establishment of the Premier League over 20 years ago could have foreseen what it was to become today:  a foreign powerhouse with a neglect for English football.

Foreign owners, foreign managers and foreign players all now mean that the Premier League has undoubtedly weakened English Football.

Last weekend only 65 English players played in the Premier League, and it is fair to say that some of these would not have been international standard; Dyke rightly stated ‘we have a very small talent pool and it’s only getting smaller’.

Dyke highlighted some more eye opening figures from recent trends in the Premier League. Sunderland have signed 14 players during the summer transfer window. They are made up of four Italians, three Frenchmen, one Swiss, one Czech, one American, one Greek, one Swede, one South Korean and a sole Englishman.

It doesn’t stop there because in the Newcastle team beaten 4-0 by Manchester City on the opening weekend it was even worse – there was only one English player in their starting line-up.

This not a criticism of these clubs nor am I singling them out for abuse, because it is clear it is a widespread problem, but the evidence is staring us in the face and we as fans are still paying our money and choosing to ignore it.  Just as Dyke says it is a result of ‘unintended consequences’.

The problem is however that the Premier League’s priorities contrast that of the national game, and until a change is made it will continue to be very difficult for English teenage stars to get game playing time in the top division.

3. Overseas Players

If you delve into the youth set ups of England’s most successful clubs at the current time you’ll find one thing – young foreign players brought to England to be developed by English clubs.

Last week Roy Hodgson spoke about his concerns regarding the low numbers of young English players.

“I saw a television programme the other day talking about there being 240 English players in the Premier League. I would defy anyone to come up with 240 names. I don’t think, frankly, you would be able to manage more than 30 or 40.”

The main concern for the England manager is that player’s development is being confined by over-competiveness in club squads. It is clear that a lack of games could destroy their careers, and young talent could quite easily be lost.

Looking at the top six clubs in the Premier League, breaking into the first team if you are a home-grown talent looks almost impossible. Manchester United have had the likes of Tom Cleverley make the step up, but only after a loan spell at Wigan. Chelsea and Manchester City have had very few and could field all-foreign sides.

With the good of the national game at stake, there is certainly an argument for limiting the amount of foreign players each club can have, or having a minimum number of English players in your team and squad.

The Conclusion:

It would be easy for people to look at Greg Dyke’s statements yesterday and define them as a ‘blame game’, but I think they were far from it.

What Dyke has done is set out the reality of the current situation of English football which should concern anybody who cares about the future of the England team.  The problem is a serious and a growing one, and something clearly needs to be done to address it.

Premier League clubs need to start giving the England team more support. The FA needs to work in tandem with the Premier League in order to establish a relationship that is stable for the future of the game.

Setting up the proposed commission is the best way to do this. Change is best made using small steps, so from home-grown players to foreign quotas, and from work-permit criteria to a revised loan system, the national game can slowly but surely turn itself around.

The commission will begin its work later this month and aim to publish its evidence and recommendations by spring 2014.

Hopefully clubs will begin to live within their means not be inclined to go and splash out £20million on a foreign player, and rather invest that money into their youth system to develop their own home-grown players.

The new commission would answer “three simple questions: why has this happened, secondly what could be done about it and thirdly to work out how, if possible, we actually make those changes”.

By Alex Stedman –

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