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Offside, 19 December

Want to keep English football mediocre? Bring in quotas for home-grown players.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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On 15 December a Charlton fan was arrested for racist chanting following an undercover operation by officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Diversity Unit.

Picture the scene: plain clothes plods in Burberry caps and Stone Island jackets pouncing on the lone suspect screaming: ‘Diversity Squad, you’re nicked.’

Isn’t it ironic that racist chanting at football matches is forbidden but it is perfectly acceptable to complain that there are too many foreigners in the British game? European football’s governing body UEFA is currently hatching up a plan to limit the number of foreign imports each team is allowed to field.

UEFA hopes to persuade the European Commission (EC) to agree a formulation that does not fall foul of European labour law. ‘We’re looking at implementing a rule whereby 50 percent of a team on the pitch has to be home-grown’, said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh. ‘That means they will have to come through the clubs’ own academies and youth systems.’

The 1995 Bosman ruling removed restrictions on the number of foreign players that clubs could field. Clubs like Chelsea, the first Premiership outfit to name an entirely non-English starting eleven, have been widely criticised for stifling the development of domestic talent.

One of the most vociferous advocates of restricting cheap foreign imports is Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). ‘Of course we will always get the likes of Wayne Rooney emerging, because the cream will rise under any system’, says Brother Taylor. ‘But I wonder how many others have not progressed because of the number of foreign players being brought into this country.’

Brother Taylor, who famously denounced Sven-Goran Eriksson’s appointment as ‘a betrayal of our heritage, of our culture’, would of course vehemently deny the charge of racism. ‘Many of my own members are foreigners’, he might say in his defence.

But, although he doesn’t call anyone a nigger, Brother Taylor’s fundamental gripe is that Carlos Kickaball and his mates are taking our jobs. ‘I really do believe our first priority as a country should be to try to create jobs and opportunity for our own youngsters’, says Taylor, clearly oblivious to the irony that he represents hundreds of overseas professionals too.

In reality, the notion that home-grown talent is suffering as a result of foreign imports is complete and utter bunkum. The rising numbers of foreign players in the British game has coincided with clubs investing heavily in youth academies. If English players can’t break through it is because they are still not good enough.

Take the case of Stephen Hughes. Remember Stephen Hughes, a player once touted as the solution to England’s left-midfield problem? I noticed this week that Watford had terminated the former Arsenal midfielder’s contract. Hughes, you may recall, blamed the foreign imports for his lack of first-team opportunities at Highbury. ‘I have no problem with the better foreign players that come in’, said Hughes, ‘but I am not sure about some cheaper ones. I’m sure it blocks young kids coming through’.

Hughes moved to Everton, where he flopped. He then dropped down a division to Watford where – you’ve guessed it – he flopped again.

‘Why haven’t we bought any English players? There aren’t enough good ones about, it’s as simple as that’, said that unlikely internationalist Ken Bates, chairman of Chelsea. The downwardly mobile career paths of Chelsea’s home-grown cast-offs vindicates Bates’ Don’t Buy British policy. Jon Harley, Andy Myers, Michael Duberry, and Mark Nicholls all left the club, unable to command a regular first-team place. Duberry is now a peripheral figure at Leeds, while the other three are plying their trade in the Nationwide League.

The influx of foreign players into the Premiership has raised the standard of English football and that is unquestionably a good thing. It is now up to the football academies and centres of excellence to produce players capable of competing with the best overseas players.

I can’t see how the English national team can benefit from a generation of young footballers who owe their first-team places to a bureaucratic fix. The UEFA proposal reminds me of the ludicrous French law that imposes a 40 percent French music quota on radio stations. As everyone knows, French pop music is execrable. Okay, there are one or two exceptions, but for every Air or Daft Punk there are 98 Jonny Hallidays.

The very fact that France needs to pass a law to preserve its cultural dross says it all. Has the quota improved the general standard of French pop music? The answer is an emphatic non. Similarly, if UEFA’s home-grown player quota is ever implemented, mediocrity would be the only winner.

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Topics Politics

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