The FA and English Football: A Breeding Ground for Mediocrity?


With what seems to be a never-ending cycle of qualification glory followed by major tournament disappointment for English football fans, Sport Editor Jack Pethick evaluates the underlying issues of English football and whether the proposed FA regulations will do anything to buck the trend. 

England and English football are in a current state of transition. Gone are the likes of Ferdinand, Gerrard and Lampard; there is change is afoot. Currently, the new team are doing well –  they are unbeaten and have qualified for the European Championship in France next year. Young and exciting players such as Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and John Stones line the squad and are no longer the future of English football but rather the present.

However, let’s not become too much of a clichéd England fan here, filled with so much hope and optimism at the qualifying stage; after all, it is just the qualifying stage against, let’s face it, pretty mediocre teams. England ALWAYS do well in the qualifiers, it’s the main stage where we always choke.

Therefore, it is currently very difficult to evaluate where exactly the England team stands at this moment time; and the state of English football, the FA and the English youth set-up isn’t making it any easier. Earlier this year, the FA announced the following proposals to try improve “the chances of young English talent succeeding at the highest levels of the game”. Currently, as from 2016 the FA plans to bring in the following regulations:

  • A change in the definition of home grown player to any player, irrespective of their nationality, who has been registered with any club affiliated to The FA or Football Association of Wales (FAW) for a period of three years prior to the player’s 18th birthday (currently the definition states a home grown player has to be registered with The FA or FAW for three years before their 21st birthday).
  • A reduction in the maximum number of non-home grown players permitted in a club’s first team squad of 25 from 17 to 13, phased over four years from 2016. This would have the effect of ensuring that in a squad of 25, 12 players would have to be home grown.
  • The introduction of a requirement that at least two home grown players are also club trained players (a club trained player is defined as any player, irrespective of nationality, that has been registered for three years at their current club prior to their 18th birthday).


BPL teams will therefore be required to have an increasing number of English players in their 23 man squads. Sounds good for the future of English football and England, doesn’t it?

Without going into whether or not the rule will indeed be implemented due to conflicting issues and ideologies between the Premier League and the FA, this proposal idea is one that has been met with both positive and negative attitudes from all areas of the footballing world. Of course there are a number of ethical issues to consider surrounding this rule, but as ultimately evaluating this rule as a fan, it has to be considered if the proposed rule would be of benefit to both the current and the future state of English football.

On Sky Sports’ “The Sunday Supplement”, the proposed policy was discussed, with journalist John Cross of The Daily Mirror stating how he believed the rule if implemented would breed “mediocrity”, or rather further mediocrity into the development of English players and the Premier League itself. To an extent this argument could have some level of plausibility. Take the example of Fabian Delph’s recent arrival at Manchester City. Would he really have been bought by manager Manuel Pellegrini if this rule wasn’t being threatened by the FA? In addition, it potentially could be a bad move for the player himself. Having recently broken into the England team following his excellent performances at Aston Villa, he could potentially see his call-up chances fade as Yaya Toure and Fernandinho appear to be the first choice central midfielders in Pellegrini’s side. Delph could potentially join the long list of English players who have seen their careers fade at City, with the likes of Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards immediately springing to mind. There are of course a number of English players who have gone to city and done well however, including James Milner,  Joe Hart and Gareth Barry. Even Raheem Sterling is currently meeting his £49 million price tag, being arguably the prime reason why Manchester City looked so sharp, fluid and dynamic in this opening part of the season.

However, a stronger argument for this “mediocrity” and lack of performances on the world stage for English footballers can be found in the massive price-tags and huge spending power of Premier League clubs. Referring back to the argument of John Cross on “The Sunday Supplement”, the classic cliché of ‘If you’re good enough then you’ll make it” was used by Cross, arguing that the cream will always rise to the top (Milner, Barry and Hart), whilst the rest won’t make it because they are not good enough compared to other players (Rodwell, Lescott Sinclair). Therefore, mediocrity will be bred as top clubs in England will be buying English players purely to fit a quota rather than genuinely intending to develop and play them.

However, although certain elements of this point are agreeable, it is the mass amounts of money that the Premier League possesses which is freezing young players out of the top clubs. According to the BBC, Premier League clubs spent a whopping £870 million on transfers this summer, well over double of the next biggest spenders – Serie A in Italy – who only spent a total of £405 million. The financial rewards of staying in the Premier League at the end of this season are immense. Starting from 2016-17, the Premier League TV rights deal increases from £3.018bn to £5.136bn for three seasons. The bottom club will pocket £99m per season with the champions earning more than £150m in prize money, even before extra money is paid for featuring in a TV match. The amount of money in the Premier League is therefore becoming unfathomable. Managers in the Premier League are gaining access to bigger and bigger war chests and coming under increasing pressure to spend it. What therefore happens is managers spend extortionate amounts of money on players and come under massive pressure from their directors and chairmen to play them, therefore freezing out younger English players and not even giving them a chance. In addition, the ruthless and chaotic nature that is the standard relationship between most chairmen and managers in the BPL means that managers often lack control over their own transfer policies and are hired and sacked almost every other day. This just adds further to the ‘glass ceiling’ that most young English players fail to break.

Taken from BBC Sport:
Taken from BBC Sport:

European football on the whole, however, does not seem to have such issues. Although the amounts of money in other leagues are large, they are nowhere near the same levels spent by English clubs. Furthermore, clubs appear to be a lot more stable in their relationships between managers and chairmen and therefore youth is given more of a chance. One need but only look at the successful European teams; the likes of Spain, Germany, France and Holland see names who started in infamous youth academies such as Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Lille and Ajax. This is not to say that English clubs do not have good academies, take for example the huge list of fantastic players who have come through Manchester United’s and Southampton’s ranks in the last few decades, and the huge resources and facilities that academies such as Arsenal and Manchester City now possess. The players at these academies just don’t often break through to the main stage.

More importantly however, the mammoth amounts of money that the BPL possesses has created an uncertain attitude amongst fans and managers alike, towards the role that youth football plays in a club. The fan base of the Premier League extends well beyond the borders of Britain, with fans of big English clubs being found in almost every corner of the globe. These huge fan bases therefore want to purely see the best players in the world playing for their club and win trophy after trophy; they don’t care about the four local lads who may have a chance at breaking into the first team. English football fans tend to have shorter memories. In contrast, fan bases on the whole tend to be a lot more localised and concentrated in Europe, with the mentality towards youth football and it’s set-up being much simpler and more positive. Fans at clubs such as Athletic Bilbao, Ajax and Real Betis would much rather see their whole squad be full of local lads, rather than spend mass amounts of money on players. This contrast is perhaps best encapsulated by most European teams attitudes towards the international youth tournaments: the best players available play in these tournaments to gain as much international experience as possible, and get used to the international set-up and footballing philosophy of their country. The English international set-up however, lacks such clarity. There appears to be a lack of a central philosophy or unity right the way through all the youth levels right up to the main team, something which most other European teams appear to have.

So then, will Greg Dyke’s proposed policies counteract the negative effect that money is having on young English players? On paper, perhaps so. English players currently aren’t getting a chance in top BPL teams and under this proposed system they will almost certainly be playing in some capacity, however, it must be remembered that this doesn’t guarantee game time for these players. Crucially though, it may force clubs to focus more on the development of both their academies and English players within them, as from a business perspective it would make sense for clubs to invest within their own club rather than splash the cash on other teams. Ultimately though it remains to be seen as to how the proposed FA regulations will effect the development of English players and thus the national team, or even if the proposed regulations will be introduced at all. In many ways then, the potential effect the proposed changes could have reflects the average England fans outlook on their chances at a tournament: ultimately bleak with a slight hint of optimism.


Jack Pethick. Sport Editor 2014-2016. Third-Year History student. Mainly write for the Sport section but dabble in writing News and Features. General Armchair pundit and lover of all things Sport. #WouldDoABetterJobThanCarragher

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