By Morris Chan
With one of the biggest leagues in the world, and the outstanding youth system that produced the likes of David Beckham and Michael Owen, how do the Three Lions manage to flunk every international tournament? We try to break the story down statistically and look at it in a more scientific way.
In the recent 2016 summer transfer window, the 20 Premier League clubs managed to spend over 1.4 billion Euros on new players, and each club averaged 70 million of investment in one single transfer window. With this absurd amount of spending, England manages to place third in the current UEFA coefficient ranking, securing 4 spots for the European Championship League. Sitting on the top of the table is Spain, and the 20 clubs that currently play in the top flight league of Spain only spend around 500 million Euros in the last transfer window. So we have the investment, and we also have a solid top flight league with high level of competition – then where is the missing piece of the recipe?
Over the pasy six years, the England major squad has achieved an 88% unbeaten rate, with a 61% win rate for all matches. While the result cannot be called a complete success or failure, they still have the value of providing reference for us.
The Three Lions are pretty famous for being a bully in the international tournament qualifiers, most of the time topping the group without a problem and often seeing the qualifiers as an opportunity to test the waters and try out new players. Every time England qualifies with flying colours the media will look to hype up England and say it is the year for them. The result is rather obvious: they mess it up in the major draw. Are they really not competitive at all, or are the players the root of all problems?
Looking at the England national squad that played in Euro 2016, all players were playing for an English club when they were called up to the squad, which is a feat that both finalists in the competition, France and Portugal couldn’t even manage to accomplish. The squad is mixed with experienced and new faces, with 9 players capturing less than 10 caps for the national team before the tournaments, and playing alongside the big name veterans like Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, who have both participated in all international and continental competitions for England since 2010.
But breaking down the composition of Premier League players, we can start to see the problems. Only 134 out of 432 registered players in the Premier League are English, which roughly takes up about 31% of the total number. With such fierce competition, English players do not get enough play time in most of the clubs, and the lack of opportunity limits the selection choice for the national squad. In the latest round of UEFA Champions League, the four English clubs that played fielded a combination of only 14 English players out of 50, which is an even lower number than the average composition. Even though the results are almost set before this round, these four clubs still refuse to field local players, limiting the development time of the players despite having most of them self-developed.
The England youth system can be considered a well-developed one, with teams managing to produce talents for the national team since the beginning. For all the under-21 competitions since 2010, England has fielded a team with most players based in England, except for the rare cases of Michael Mancienne, a Chelsea youth team player who went to Germany due to the limited squad time, and Eric Dier, a now Tottenham Hotspur, playing in Portugal due to the lack of chance in England. In the span of 2010-2016, the under-21 squad managed to achieve an 84% unbeaten rate with a 78% win rate for all matches. But only around 30% of the players that played in the youth team of England managed to make the major squad, and haven’t yet been able to find a way to break through the barriers of veterans holding the spots on the team.
It is rather apparent that the Premier League does not serve as the best environment for local players to grow and develop. The existence of professional football within a country should serve to develop the best footballers in the nation, and hopefully increase the chance of national success. The globalisation of football has turned the Premier League into a melting pot of different football styles and cultures. The lost of identity and chances for the young players have cost England the development despite the huge investments, and another reform is sure to happen.