Foreign players are blocking English talent in Premier League, Gareth Southgate warns
Gareth Southgate has warned the England national team will suffer if the trend of decreasing numbers of English players in the Premier League continues.
The Premier League is currently at loggerheads with the Football Association over transfer rules since Brexit which have made buying foreign players more difficult.
The FA is keen to keep the regulations tight around signing players from abroad so as to give more opportunities to English players, who are lagging well behind European rivals like France and Spain when it comes to gaining minutes at the highest club level. But the Premier League is pushing for the FA’s rules to be loosened in order to ensure its clubs can compete with European rivals for top talent.
However, Southgate pointed to the lack of consistent minutes for English players in the Premier League this season as evidence that the situation is getting worse, and will hamper the national team’s chances of success down the line.
“I think the starting point is we want to keep the Premier League as the best possible league,” Southgate said, speaking after announcing England’s 25-man squad for two upcoming Euro 2024 qualifiers. “It’s a brilliant product for English football, it’s a brilliant product in terms of finance for the country – which we need at the moment – so we want a healthy Premier League, we want a healthy EFL and we want a healthy England team.
“The numbers are the numbers. They’re not going up. That’s clear. Twenty-eight per cent (Premier League starters who are English) has happened in a couple of weekends in the last few weeks. It has been around 32 but that’s down from 35 when I took over and 38 in the years before, so the graph is clear, there’s no argument about that.”
England’s squad for the coming games with Italy and Ukraine contains several players who are not playing regularly for their clubs, like Kalvin Phillips and Harry Maguire, while others like Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount have lacked form. But Southgate says his options are limited and believes the influx of foreign players arriving in the winter transfer window has only exacerbated the issue.
“In January, 55 deals, and 44 were players that were either new foreign players coming in or the two that were here already - Jorginho and Sambi Lokonga that were moving inside. Of the English deals a couple of those were second or third-choice goalkeepers, three were youth transfers – one was Romeo Beckham. So that’s 80 per cent of the deals coming in through January were non-English. That impact of January has played out in the last couple of weeks. If we keep going in that direction it is clear that those numbers are going to drop again.
“And of course somebody has to think about the 10,000 kids that are in our academies and whether or not there is a realistic chance of them having a career at the end, so there is an ethical question as well. We are pouring millions into youth development and there has been brilliant investment for a long, long period of time and we are seeing some benefit from that in the quality of players, but talent has to meet opportunity to get there.”
The England manager used some of his current stars as examples of the good fortune they need to break into first-team football.
“A club like Chelsea who have had, you could argue, the best academy in recent years, you could argue that perhaps the likes of [Mason] Mount and [Reece] James got their chance because of the [transfer] embargo. [Marcus] Rashford because James Wilson was on loan and Ashley Fletcher was on loan and there were injuries in the first team.
“If nobody takes a position of trying to protect young English players and their chance then the numbers will continue in the same way. But I accept and totally understand that if I am at a club I want to do my best for my individual business.”
And Southgate is concerned by the lack of English talent playing in Europe’s top club competition.
What’s the best way to judge our players? The Champions League. If you look at Champions League minutes this year we are sixth on that list – we’re actually behind Brazil and Portugal. If breaking into the team is the foundation, the Champions League and the upper echelons of the Premier League is the finishing school, the rest of Europe get their foundation in their own domestic leagues and then the cream is sold around the big five leagues and they get the finishing school at the end. At the moment we are a long way behind France and Spain on those numbers and it is really interesting that Brazil, who obviously have a really powerful domestic league, now have as many players playing Champions League, or more than we have.
“I’m trying to talk facts because the facts are there, and the trend is there, and I think it won’t hit us [senior England squad] necessarily in the next 18 months, but if there’s 66 players [in the Premier League] every week, it does mean that positionally, you’ve got to add in what does that actually mean as well.
“I think we’ve got four left-footed left-backs playing in the league at the moment, so we’ll have to start looking in the Championship or elsewhere, because the additional part for us is we don’t export many players. Of course, we’ve got Jude [Bellingham] and Fik [Fikayo Tomori] and Tammy [Abraham] but there’s 30 Spaniards playing here, there’s 30 French playing here. We’ve got nobody playing in Spain, not one. We’ve got a couple in Italy, we’ve got a couple in France and we’ve got a couple in Germany. So that is what it is really.
“When I’m asked to give my view I can only give what I see, and the evidence and the trends is down.”