By Kay Ajibade
English football is broken. The Premier League is the world’s fourth most lucrative sporting league generating $6.1billion in revenue – only America’s NBA, MLB and NFL generate more in revenue. However, despite having the most valuable footballing league globally, English football has struggled on the national stage.
The Premier League is one of the most competitive leagues in the world. In the last five years there have been three different winners and year-on-year the battle for survival is fierce. According to Deloitte, promotion to the Premier League is worth £160million, and this could rise to £280million if a promoted club survives relegation at the first time of asking. But perhaps that’s the problem. With so much money at stake, owners are quick to pull the trigger and sack managers without hesitation. As a result, managers are reluctant to give youth a chance, with their own job potentially at risk.
Unfortunately, English players suffer and more importantly with only 33% of players in the premier league being English, the national team has suffered. Youth hasn’t had a chance. In 2017, England won both the U-17 & U-20 world cup, with the likes of Phil Foden, Dominic Solanke, Rhian Brewster and Dominic Calvert Lewin showcasing real potential. However, since then only Jadon Sancho, Morgan Gibbs-White, Phil Foden, Ademola Lookman, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Harry Winks have made more than 20 appearances at senior level in the Premier League.
The problem clearly isn’t a lack of talent. This month Callum Hudson-Odoi has surprisingly been the target of four bids from Bundesliga giant, Bayern Munich, the latest, an astonishing £35m. With Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson doing so well abroad, should we really be that surprised?
Last summer, England was buzzing as the national team reached the semi-final of the World Cup. Some may say England were fortunate to play Colombia ranked 11th and Sweden ranked 22nd on route the semi-final, before being knocked out by Croatia ranked 10th. However, overall, England came fourth, losing to Belgium in the third-place playoff – England’s best performance since Italy 1990, 28 years ago!
2018 World Cup champions, France, had an average squad age of 26, with their youngest player, Kylian Mbappe, winning the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award. Despite winning, the French squad had some notable omissions including Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte, Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman and Paris Saint-Germain’s Adrien Rabiot. These players are all under the age of 25 and would most certainly make the England squad if not start.
Six of Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning team were part of the U-21 team that beat England in the 2009 UEFA’s U-21 European Championship final. Of that England squad, however, only James Milner, Danny Rose, Theo Walcott and Joe Hart went on to reach at least 20 caps for England. “Here’s what became of the rest of that England team”.
The reality is the best national teams have domestic leagues with protectionist rules encouraging the development of youth players. The Premier League as a private company separate from the FA doesn’t prioritise the success of the national team, and with only 25% of Premier League owners being English, why should they?
Truthfully, there is more than one problem with English football, it’s not just the amount of money in the game or the structure of the league, but also decisions made at academy level. Many clubs release technically gifted players due to a lack of physicality. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson were both released due to a lack of size. Alternatively, top tier Premier League clubs would rather stockpile players with potential, than allow them to play consistent senior level football, fearing their rivals would beat them to a potential ‘wonderkid’. Chelsea are the biggest culprits with over 40 players out on loan, including the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown, Fikayo Tomori & Kenneth Omeruo.
So, What’s the Solution?
Honestly, there’s no easy fix to the various problems in English football. However, long term, the priorities of both the FA and the Premier League need to be closely aligned, with a core focus on the development of English players. The English national team needs depth to choose from rather than a squad of players that essentially choose themselves. If these problems remain unresolved, it could quite easily be another 28+ years before England reaches a World Cup semi-final again. It may be time to consider similar protectionist rules to Spain, Germany & France, whilst rules such as China’s limit of three non-domestic players per game may be excessive, it is clear that something needs to change.
Kay Ajibade is a graduate of the University of Leicester with a honours degree in Law. He is a chartered accountant, with a keen interest in sports, economics and politics. As an unseasoned journalist, Kay is keen to cover modern day developments at the forefront of global business.