Managers at the top clubs no longer have the time to bring through talented English youngsters

Dr Robert Whitfield

Posted: August 17, 2014

The new Manchester United manager, Louis Van Gaal, will this week begin with the re-shaping and re-structuring of the clubs playing staff. Having told no fewer than seven first team players that their footballing futures lie elsewhere, Van Gaal will press-ahead with his summer transfer recruitment and the Premier League will be welcoming some more top foreign talent to its ranks. If the papers are to be believed (who doesn’t believe what The Sun and The Mail write?!) then his targets include Arturo Vidal, Juan Cuadrado, Mats Hummels,  Angel Di Maria, Kevin Strootman, Edinson Cavani, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, the list goes on……..

Rather worringly for the F.A. and the England national team, is the lack of home-grown players being recruited or produced from the academy system by the top clubs in the Premier League, illustrated by the names linked with United. Despite this, it should not be forgotten that Van Gaal historically has a fantastic record of bringing through home-grown players. In his first managerial position, Van Gaal won the 1995 Champions League with an Ajax team that featured seven youth products in the starting eleven of the final vs A.C. Milan. This is also the manager who gave first-team debuts to Xavi and Iniesta in his two separate spells at Barcelona and who approved the signing of Luke Shaw for United, a target previously identified by David Moyes. However, what is clear is that Van Gaal is targeting players for United who are deemed to be the “finished article” in football speak. The re-building job at United must be swift and bring with it on-field success, players are needed that will perform this season, not in four or five years’ time and the nationality of the players recruited is irrelevant. After the disappointment of their lowest ever Premier League finish last season, United simply cannot afford another season of underperformance.

This scenario is not unique to Manchester United and is being replicated throughout the top division. Manchester City felt they needed a new defensive midfielder and decided to sign the Brazilian player Fernando from Porto for around £12 million. A couple of weeks later, City sold Jack Rodwell (at one time mooted as the next great English talent), a defensive midfielder who they signed two years ago for £12 million, to Sunderland for a £2 million loss. Rodwell, who played twenty six games in two full seasons, lamented his decision to sign for City warning young English players:

“I would weigh up your options and ask yourself if you want to be playing regularly.

I would probably say, ‘don’t sign now; get as much football as you can.”

After the sale of Rodwell, City now have a total of six English players in their thirty man first team squad. Of those six, only three (Joe Hart, James Milner and possibly Frank Lampard) are likely to feature on a regular basis. This dearth of English players is also observed at Chelsea, where following the release of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, only John Terry and Gary Cahill remain as the two home-grown players who are likely to play first team football.

Even the so-called “smaller clubs” in the Premier League are gambling on expensive foreign purchases that will hopefully hit the ground running. Newly-promoted Leicester City spending £8 million on the Argentine Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton, West Brom purchasing the Nigerian Brown Ideye for £10 million and West Ham signing Ecuadorian World Cup star Enner Valencia for £12 million, are just a few examples. The story remains the same throughout the Premier League. The club/manager does not have the time to nurture through a promising young player. The finished article is needed and needed right now!

As widely reported in the press last week, ex-Manchester United and England defender and current coach of the England national side, Gary Neville, suggested that English football is “slowly killing itself” by the favouring of foreign signings over home-grown talent:

“We are slowly killing ourselves. We laugh at Scotland and the Republic of Ireland but it’s happening to England before our eyes. Twenty five years ago Liverpool had Republic of Ireland players and Scottish players, Manchester United had Scottish players, Irish players and Welsh players. All the top six teams did and now there are none. There are a few English players but they’re dwindling fast.”

The point that Neville eludes to, regarding the lack of home-grown players at the top clubs, is something that has emerged in the make-up of recent England squads. Focusing on the contribution of the top seven clubs in the Premier League last season (Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Spurs and Man Utd) in terms of players produced that were in the 2014 England World Cup Squad, out of the twenty three players, only seven were produced by these top seven clubs. Go back ten years earlier and in the Euro 2004 England squad, the same top seven clubs contributed fourteen out of the twenty three players. Neville is not the first and will not be the last pundit, to predict such a harrowing future for English football. What is perhaps most worrying, is the lack of action being taken.

About Dr Robert Whitfield

Robert is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Coventry University, having gained my PhD and MSc from the University of Sheffield in Human Biosciences.  He is an F.A. qualified coach and has a particular interest in the tactical and technical developments in Football as well as the financial state of the English lower leagues. Robert tweets at: