Former England manager Graham Taylor – a man for whom I have a great deal of respect – has become the latest to chime in with the view that the Premier League’s internationalisation is to the detriment of the England team. This view is almost universal – yet it is utterly wrong.
The problem is the other way about: it is not that Premier League clubs sign too many non-English players; it is that English players are not good enough to play in the Premier League. By seeking artificial solutions to the first, people are missing the fact that what is actually required is a solution to the second.
As ever, let us repeat the evidence that, in living memory, England has never really been any good. The idea that England’s demise is somehow linked to the rise of the Premier League does not stand up to even the remotest historical scrutiny – after all, England failed to qualify for the World Cup during the Premier League’s very first season in existence!
In 1986, Liverpool won the League and Cup double (then a highly unusual feat) with a team which contained just one English player (and even he was really Australian) – no one complained then that this was damaging to the England team! Let us be clear, because the team was made up largely of players from the British Isles, no one really noticed. So the suggestion that “foreign” players now are a problem has only arisen since those players ceased to be Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish or Irish – in other words, let us be blunt, it is laced with xenophobia.
In 1994, Arsenal won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with an entirely English team except for Steve Morrow. Yet Graham Taylor’s England had not qualified for that year’s World Cup. If having “foreign players” is such a problem, why could England not qualify for the World Cup when the majority of top-flight players were English, including the near entirety of a team capable of winning European final?
The reason is that consistently – in 1986, in 1994, in 2013 – English players have been deficient in technical (and often also tactical) ability. Sheer “grit” (or, put more professionally, team-building) occasionally enabled its clubs to get away with it in the 1980s until the rest of Europe caught up even on that front; but never the international team. Remember Sweden, not a particularly football-mad country with bad weather and only a sixth of the population has reached twice as many World Cup semi-finals as England, including one more recently!
England and its FA continue to labour under utterly false delusions of grandeur, something which should have been knocked out of them sixty years ago when the team was ripped apart 6-3 by the Hungarians at Wembley. Remember, what fewer people remember is that the following year they arrogantly returned to Hungary seeking to put things right – and got battered 7-1! Technically and tactically, they have been way behind other major footballing powers since.
The Premier League does contain many of the best players in the world. The problem is that very few of the very best players in the world are English. It is not that the English are not getting the opportunity, it is that they are not earning it – because, you know, they’re not really very good.