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English football under threat



By Matt Slater

Birmingham's Cameron Jerome
The Blues are hoping youngsters like Jerome can buck the trend
The number of foreign players plying their trade in England is going to increase, according to David Gold.

The Birmingham City chairman told BBC Sport the global popularity of the English league is feeding the trend as clubs can now afford the world's best.

"We've got to live with the current situation because the Premier League is driving football," said Gold.

"I cannot see how you can legislate to stop overseas players from coming to the country. You can't alter this."

Gold was speaking in the week before two crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers for Steve McClaren's England and a few days after the summer transfer window closed. That transfer window saw English clubs spend record amounts of money on new signings, much of it on foreign players.

The number of English-qualified players starting in the Premier League has fallen from 184 to 81 during the last 15 years. On the first weekend of this season only 37% of the starting XIs were English.

Sir Trevor Brooking, the Football Association's director of development, told the BBC this trend is depriving English youngsters of first-team opportunities and has led to an alarming lack of depth in key areas, particularly up front.

David Gold
Fans are going to say that what comes first is my club and that's the way it is going to go

David Gold
Birmingham City chairman
McClaren's plans for the must-win games against Israel and Russia have been badly hit by injuries to David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, and the suspension of Peter Crouch.

With English players claiming less than a third of the goals scored in the top flight so far this season, it is hardly surprising the likes of Brooking are concerned about who will score the goals England need to progress in this competition and future ones.

Gold admitted he had sympathy with the view that the increasingly cosmopolitan look of the English game was having an adverse effect on the national team, but said it was a price fans would have to pay for the "greatest league in the world".

"The question is are you happy for your club to have 50% of their players come from overseas or are you more concerned about the national team?" he said.

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"It depends where you're looking from - whether you're on the beach in the summer and you're concerned about the national team, or it's Saturday and you're at Chelsea or Arsenal. You can't have it both ways.

"We benefit as individual fans because we see world-class players. But the price for that is that the national team is suffering."

Gold, whose manager Steve Bruce has recently criticised the quality of English youngsters coming through the ranks, said supporters may have to lower their expectations of the national team.

"We might have to settle for what we've got and say we're not a country that is going to lead the world in football and accept there is a limit to what we can achieve," he said.

The Premier League has some wonderful teams but there is no question it means limited opportunities for English players

David Pleat
"There will be times when great English players emerge - and we will win a tournament in due course - but I've got to say it's very difficult.

"We're under-performing and the reason we're underperforming is because only 40% of the players in the league are English.

"If you go to countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, they're over-performing and the reason they're doing well is that the players in their top flights are home-grown.

"If you compare us with Italy, 70% of the players in their top division are Italians and it reflects in their national side.

"If we could run at 70% we would be competing at the highest level but we're not and we have to face up to that.

"The reasons we're not is that the Premier League is bringing in the world's greatest players and that is stifling young English players from emerging."

Fernando Torres
Torres is one of nine foreign stars Liverpool signed this summer
Former Luton, Sheffield Wednesday and Spurs boss David Pleat told BBC Radio 4's "Today Programme" he agreed with Brooking about the impact of the foreign invasion and suggested the only way to reverse it was to introduce quotas.

"In (Sunday's) Arsenal-Portsmouth game there were seven African players," said Pleat, now a leading pundit.

"They are wonderful players, and the Premier League has some wonderful teams, but there is no question it means limited opportunities for English players.

"There's no doubt that (a quota system) would help but it's very difficult to do.

"County cricket did it. The very best came over and our players could emulate them, but the mediocre ones didn't. As a consequence there were still opportunities for English players and cricket turned itself around."

Gold, however, said quotas were contrary to European Union employment and stricter work-permit rules for non-EU players would only slow the trend, not stop it.

"Fans are going to say that what comes first is my club and that's the way it is going to go."

SEE ALSO
Lampard ruled out of Israel match
04 Sep 07 |  Internationals
Brooking fears for England future
03 Sep 07 |  Football
Bentley & Young in England squad
31 Aug 07 |  Internationals
Beckham out of England qualifiers
31 Aug 07 |  Football
Bruce blasts English youth set-up
17 Aug 07 |  Birmingham City
FA combats English lack of skill
29 Jun 07 |  Football
Brooking demands coaching changes
02 Dec 06 |  Football


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