May 14, 2008

Five Plus Six Somehow Doesn't Go

According to The Times, and various other newspapers, the presence of three English teams in the Champions League semi final this year is proof that there is a need for a quota system in football to force six home grown players to be present in every team’s starting line up, according to FIFA president and perennial foot-in-mouth champion, Sepp Blatter.

Aside from the ambiguity of “home grown” (surely not a return to nationality caps a la the early 1990s which are illegal) this is an interesting observation of Mr Blatter’s. Obviously he must think these quotas would level the playing field and prevent big nasty imported devils like Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard from forcing their English paymasters through to major tournament finals. Oh how Blatter must have lamented the way European football has gone when a sloppy pass from Italian Zambrota failed to fnid his Argentine team mate Messi, leaving Englishman Scholes to fire in a hammer blow of a shot to send Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick into the European cup final. And Rooney, Brown, Ferdinand and Neville. And Vidic who’s so fucking hard as nails he could tell you he’s any nationality he wants, you’d believe him.

Blatter’s idea of home grown players is a veiled attack on the premiership’s ability to attract foreign stars as we never heard this rhetoric when Real’s Galacticos were winning and challenging for the CL with some regularity. It’s sour grapes from a man whose dislike of the English in particular, and British in general, makes you wonder why he is taken seriously anymore. Actually he can’t be, a long string of gaffes has seen to that, and only reportedly massive FIFA corruption seems to ensure his grip on power.

In any case, a short case study might prove illuminating. Take the Manchester United vs Barcelona tie. Two talented and interesting to watch teams. Let’s peruse the squads and see what we can find. Manchester United’s first team squad consists, according the Wikipedia, of 28 players, eleven of whom are English 1 and Ryan Giggs lived in England for several years. Barcelona would prefer to be seen as Catalans, but are officially Spanish and have a first team squad on Wikipedia or 24, with nine Spaniards. 2 That’s 39% Englishness at Manchester United (I’ve not counted Giggs) and 37.5% Spanishness at Barcelona. And it’s the English clubs killing the game so much it needs Blatter’s plan?

Spreading the net a bit wider we find other top European teams with the following percentage nationality ratios:

AC Milan – 46% (but also 28.5% Brazilian)
Real Madrid – 32%(they’ve got an Equatorial Guinean!)
Bayern Munich – 55%
Chelsea – 27% (although one of those is Sidwell so really it’s more like 24%, hahaha)
Inter – 26% (with a staggering 21% Argentine)
Lyon – 61.5%
Roma – 48%
Liverpool – 30.5%
Olympiacos – 50%
Celtic – 41%
Porto – 44%
Sevilla – 48%
Fenerbache – 66.6% (although seven (26%) of the squad claim a duel Turkish-elsewhere nationality so it’s dubious if they count as home grown)
Arsenal – 28% (Almunia not counted)
Schalke 04 – 46%

The English teams are hardly the leaders in home recruitment, Lyon seem to be best at that (Fenerbache don’t really count – Colin Kazim-Richards as a home grown Turkish star?) but they probably stand to lose several of their best players, most likely to Arsenal. In fact, Manchester United seem to weather the storm fairly well, especially considering how many of the English players are first choice players for the national team (Rio, Rooney, Hargreaves), how many should be (Carrick) and how many are Paul Scholes, the man many English fans want back (Scholes). But the one main detail appears to show that the lower the number of home players, the more likely a club is to really succeed. The highest home player percentages are usually eliminated in the earliest rounds – first qualifying round victims included FC Olimpi Rustavi (87.5% Georgian), FK Pobeda (82% Macedonian), Derry City (100% of players from the island of Ireland) and TNS (erm, 90% English apparently… and the non English players are from Canada and the Cayman Islands).

I’m not saying that the English clubs aren’t guilty of having a lot of foreigners. You can’t really blame them when the number of top class English players is so low (Ferdinand, Rooney, Gerrard, they’re the only ones other big nations would covet) but surely by this logic the big Italian and Spanish clubs should be swimming in homegrown players and their fancy qualifying-for-Euro-2008 skills. That they’re not is a telling indictment. Blatter is once again picking the English because he doesn’t like England. This isn’t paranoia. He doesn’t. Why else would he come up with this after an all English final, ignoring a recent all Spanish final, or the repeated wins and dominance of AC Milan, Real Madrid or Barca?

Any justification of this mad scheme on the grounds of strengthening national teams is a bit rich if he really wants to see plucky punching-above-their-weight national teams like Wales, Ireland or Sweden watch their legions of foreign based players sent home for lack of space. Ryan Giggs, Shay Given and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not benefit themselves or their countries by turning out for TNS, Shamrock Rovers or Helsingborgs.

Maybe more English players at top clubs would be a nice thing, but the fact that top English players will be on astronomical wages from age 17 and don’t seem to have the patience or will to really achieve is a bigger factor than having some Ivorians or Serbs in our league. England has a big population s should be producing plenty of good players to compete. But it doesn’t. England’s problem is finding out how to properly train and motivate what it has. Sepp Blatter’s problem is he’s an idiot. Simple as.

1 Gary Neville, Owen Hargreaves, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Wayne Rooney, Ben Foster, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Chris Eagles, Tom Heaton, Danny Wallbeck.
2 Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Jose Manuel Pinto, Santiago Ezquerro, Oleguer Presas, Albert Jorquera and Bojan Krkic.

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  1. I suspect that Sepp Blatter’s whistling into the wind anyway; as I understand it, legally speaking, within the EU, the Kolpak Ruling ensures that the quota could only be placed on non-EU players.

    14 May 2008, 09:00

  2. There’s a similar situation with cricket. Only two overseas players are allowed per club (I think, it changes every year!). Northamptonshire have avoided this in a big way and have no overseas players. But they do have 6 Kolpak players. Now, it’s not one of the biggest or richest clubs so what are they doing to bring on home grown talent?

    14 May 2008, 10:51

  3. Allan Smith

    I’m not entirely convinced it’s brought about because English teams are doing well in the European Cup (I nearly said dominating, but 2 wins in 20 isn’t much of a monopoly).

    He’s been harping on about player caps for a long time now, including when the power was more shifted towards Spain and Italy; I wouldn’t be surprised if their media also didn’t take on the role of victim in a similar way. In fact, the way he goes on about changing football, there can’t be many left who don’t feel he has something against them. Jack Warner; now there’s a man who hates England…

    My main problem with such a cap is the notion that it would aid the national side; as if England were winning trophies left, right and centre before Juan Foreigner rolled into town. With English players tending to cost more than foreign counterparts, wouldn’t placing a specific requirement to field them exacerbate this even further? It’d be ok for the big cheeses but smaller sides would be in some trouble.

    14 May 2008, 11:43

  4. With English players tending to cost more than foreign counterparts, wouldn’t placing a specific requirement to field them exacerbate this even further?

    Bingo, seat 3. Give that man a 1-win voucher.

    I’m now manager of Scratby Town, who are looking to survive in the Premier League next season, and I have to go out and buy 5-6 first team players to repair my squad, who have all been bought by Chelsea’s 39th string team. I could go down the lower leagues and pick up six young useful Englishmen for £3-5m per player. Or, I could take one from France, one from Germany, one from Italy, one from Austria, one from Guatemala and one from Slough, and pay a total closer to £8m for the lot. Which do you think my money-grabbing board is going to prefer? The inflation on young players playing for an English club is enough at the moment; if there was a requirement to field them, football would just be unviable for most of the clubs outside the top 30.

    However, it’s one thing to look at the nationalities of the first-team squad, and quite another to look at the nationalities of the usual starting XI. I don’t see Arsenal fielding 2-3 Englishmen a game in the Premiership for one.

    14 May 2008, 13:39

  5. I think the technicality FIFA would use is to make the 6+5 part of the laws of football (which a purist like me dislikes as those 17 laws are wonderful for their simplicity) affecting only players on the pitch not signed to a club. I can’t remember exact details but it’s doable legally but requires a major change in the game itself which I think would be unpopular.

    Also Blatter has proposed this in the past it’s true but comments like “This season, there were four English teams in the last eight, three in the semi-finals and two in the final. The Champions League has been very successful financially but it has also favoured national inequality. That’s why, being in charge of football, I have to bring this item to the attention of the Congress” which get me. He doesn’t help himself with his presentation of the issue. Either you’re concerned about foreigners or you’re not – why should the number of English semi finalists matter? I actually agree with his point about residence, how you can play for another country after living there for as little as two years? Sure, the single granny rule is a bit contentious (Stephen Ireland’s many grannies, alive and dead, could come from anywhere!) butit makes sense. Apart from the Tony Cascarino case, but everyone loves exceptions.

    Jack Warner, however, is a dick.

    15 May 2008, 00:58

  6. Jack Warner, however, is a dick.

    technically speaking?

    15 May 2008, 09:30

  7. I’m not sure if the 6+5 rule is such a great idea either, but there’s something that hasn’t been mentioned that could be an argument in favour.

    Keep the status quo, and you allow those clubs that can afford it to assemble dream teams. Typically, these will be all the Premier League teams, plus those perennial survivors of the Champions League, i.e. the big Italian and Spanish clubs. Most other clubs either need a great scouting system, youth system, or intelligent manager to get them anywhere in Europe. And hope that no one notices.

    PSV (Dutch champions) has managed to do reasonably well in the past couple of years, especially when Hiddink (an intelligent manager) worked with great scouts, and Chelsea. Yet, when they were mildly successful, their style of play was dispised, and their clever link with Chelsea was brought into question. At the same time, Ajax still is a good breeding ground, but only manages to keep their young talents for up to two years before they are snatched away, and they haven’t managed to build a consistent team since the beginning of the millennium.

    Great players should play as much as possible, and young talents should be fostered and given time to develop. I don’t think that either are an option with the current situation, and perhaps the 6+5 rule could be just that bit of (self-)protection the players need as well.

    16 May 2008, 10:16

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