English Youths Competing for Time with Marquee Signings

There’s been much talk in England proclaiming that Premier League teams are not giving their English youngsters enough playing time. They claim that it is because of a lack of minutes played by youth internationals that performances by the senior and national teams at the youth levels are suffering. They point fingers at foreign players coming from abroad.

Pessimists argue that the influx of talent from abroad is hindering the opportunities young English players get to play for their club. There is logic in that statement. If a club such as Chelsea or the Manchesters  are going to contest for the title, they need to field the best talent that money can buy them.

In today’s results driven world, clubs find it hard to afford their youngsters playing time, no matter how promising he may be. “English under-21s made up 2.28% of the total minutes played in 2012-13 with Manchester City, Chelsea, Swansea, Stoke and Wigan failing to field an English player under 21 all season.”

Arsenal are the only top four team that consistently provides its youngsters many a chances. This strategy has not yet paid off dividends as the last time Arsenal won the league was with its legendary Invincibles side back in 2003-2004. Albeit it can be said that Arsenal have been forced to look towards developing their players as opposed to buying proven talent due to their move to the Emirates Stadium.

Much can be said about Southampton FC which has done a service to England, albeit while in the bottom divisions.  Yet, even the u-21s of these teams only register 11% and 6% of the percentage of minutes played during the 2012-2013 season, respectively.

France and Spain seem to have had recent success at the U-20s World Cup and at the U-21-European Championship, respectively. Germany could have waltzed into the final had they chosen to participate. The youth of these nations share one thing in common, they are getting more playing time in the five dominant leagues across Europe than English youth.

David Pleat, football commentator, sums it up well “the financial prizes for rising one place in the Premier League are so high now that clubs will jeopardise their youth in order to get those financial rewards.” Clubs are responding to the incentives presented by revenue, and that is to be expected.

A lack of development is an externality problem suffered by the National squads. Why should we expect Manchester City to feature English U-21 if it will not reap the benefits? This is a market failure, but it would be foolish to think that government intervention will fix this problem.

I believe that we, myself included, only hang on to the World Cup and continental championships because we are romantics. We miss the glamour of the France vs England games, the mouthwatering Argentina vs Brasil clasicos. We want to pretend we still live in the days when football players made a modest living and representing your home country was the pinnacle of a player’s career.

The truth is that the beautiful game has been globalized, whether we like it or not. One way to keep international games alive is to allow football associations from each country the opportunity to offer contracts to eligible players. The players’ salaries would be paid for by the respective football association and would not be expected to play at a club level.

In essence, you would have a full time national team composed of players that do not compete at the club level. This may seem like an unpopular move, and years after I’ve written this blog post, this idea does not sit well with me, but this is only a potential solution to a very specific problem England is facing.


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