Do We Really Have Too Many Foreigners?

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With the transfer season firmly underway, Jason takes the issue of immigration firmly upon his shoulders.

A foreign player quota; that is a limit on the amount of foreigners you can have in your squad.

Discussed by world football’s leaders, many have blasted leading clubs to take into account players born in the country they play in, as those clubs prefer to sign cheaper foreign alternatives. The influx of foreign players in the English Premiership in particular has long been drawn up as a reason why England constantly fails on the international stage.

While just eleven ‘foreigners’ were listed to start in the first week of fixtures at the start of the Premiership in the 1992/93 season, a massive 59% of players that took to the field in last year’s campaign were foreign and if this summer’s transfer activity is anything to go by, that percentage is only on the way up.

Fans of the England international team will suggest that those foreigners are taking up valuable squad places for English youth, but is that the case? If those English youth players are good enough, they will be able to realise their dreams of moving to a top four club – as Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea) have all done.

That’s not to say a stint at a top four club is the best for young English players because they will often get limited playing time. Often, a spell at a smaller club can benefit those youngsters greatly- the likes of Leighton Baines at Wigan, Micah Richards at Manchester City and Fabrice Muamba at Birmingham can testify to this. Whereas at a top four club the trio would be mostly bench players, they are allowed to flourish in an environment with less pressure and, if they have not already, they will get their first England caps in the coming months. Even though the top clubs do not really take gambles on those players from the lower divisions, clubs further down in the Premiership do – as shown when Everton paid what could be an eventual £5m to bring Joleon Lescott to Goodison Park.

Impressing greatly, Lescott has been one of the star performers of an Everton side that qualified for the UEFA Cup. Another young English player to do well in the Premiership is Nicky Shorey, bought for a mere £25,000 from Leyton Orient to eventually arrive with Reading into England’s top flight, and even earning himself an call-up to England’s friendly against Brazil a day before his wedding. The last example I bring you is that of once non-league winger Michael Kightly, who could soon be playing in the Premiership. The English player moved to Wolverhampton Wonderers from Conference side Grays Athletic, with Premiership champions Manchester United apparently interested in getting his signature. Once known as ‘the Ryan Giggs of non-league football’, Wolves have put a £2m value on Kightly and with his stock continuing to rise, it is likely he will make the step up sooner rather than later.

How does the influx of foreign players help the England national team, you ask? Foreign players have contributed to developing one of England’s greatest squads of all time, with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand all capable of getting into any football side in the world. The foreign ‘invasion’ has also meant English players have gained football knowledge and skills they would not have had there been a ban on foreign imports. Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon possess technical prowess matching some of the best continental players in the world, with the former regularly turning in virtuoso performances for Chelsea while the latter hoodwinks defences with his quick feet and ability to play in confined areas.

A quota on the amount of foreign players allowed in the Premiership would not just be detrimental to the league as a spectacle, but it would not help the national team either, with only a larger amount of mediocre players becoming available. Only the cream of the crop rise to the top, and in today’s difficult Premiership it is clear that those best suited to playing for England are doing so. All that is needed for the national team is a half decent manager and some serious, serious penalty practise and they will be up there competing with the best as with the likes of Bentley, Richards and Lennon coming through the wait for England to end their barren run on the national stage draws closer every time a promising youngster manages to break into the Premiership.