It appears that Greg Dyke, head of the FA, governing body of English football, has persuaded the government to approve new rules on work permits for foreign players. This includes requiring foreign players to come from more successful football nations (according the FIFA rankings) and requiring them to have played more games for their national team. He also wants to persuade the Premier League to field a larger share of “home grown” players – a rule which is biased in favour of players from the home country and which arguably contravenes EU law on the free movement of labour.
The motivation for this protectionism is to improve the quality of the national team. I will make two predictions right now:
- It won’t reduce the percentage of foreign players in the EPL
- It won’t improve the performance of the national team
The first point is something I alluded to last week- the massive increase in EPL broadcast rights income and the appreciation of sterling will send EPL clubs out on a major international spending spree over the next couple of years – so that even if the quality standard is raised, the EPL clubs can still afford to buy more top talent.
But this also won’t help the national team. As we explain in Soccernomics, English players benefit from pitting themselves against the best players in the world- and the fact that they make up about one third of the league means that the England manager has around 100 EPL players to choose from- this ought to be enough to produce a competitive team. In fact, my take on the data is that the EPL has made the England team better.
We also say in Soccernomics that it’s not clear that you should expect the England team to do much better anyway- the overperformance countries like Germany and Italy is what is interesting, not the alleged underperformance of England. But if you do think England should do better there are two smoking guns in my view:
(i) Youth development- facilities for youth training and development across the country are poor. All the billions of the EPL would not solve this- it’s a problem to do with years of neglect by government. A country like Germany has always had a substantial government funded support system for local club sports aimed at local communities (even if they too now face funding problems).
(ii) English players hardly ever go abroad. Despite the international profile of the EPL, English players failing to get into the top teams in England seldom try to prove themselves abroad – which is what players from most other countries do. If you’re almost good enough for the EPL, then you probably are good enough for the Dutch league, the French league, the Belgian league. More international experience of this kind would have long term benefits for the English game. The FA should provide scholarships for English players to gain overseas experience, to open their minds to these possibilities.
The policy of isolationism when faced with strong foreign competition almost never works. It might help boost the profitability of the EPL clubs, since they won’t have to compete as much for foreign talent, but that will not make English players better. What is needed is a more international outlook from young English players.