Is society to blame for our lack of English footballing talent?

by Matt Quinn

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008
 

Is this an English problem?

I’m writing this article while watching Soccer AM. Steve Bull is on the sofa. They’ve just shown a clip of him playing for England, latching onto a through ball from Steve Hodge. Mouthwatering stuff. Those were the days before England’s’ top division had been flooded by bloody foreigners, before we’d been forced to resort to the likes of Rooney, Ferdinand and Gerrard for international duty.

Throughout society at the moment, there is an increasing backlash against immigration and its negative effects. However, it is pretty well documented how beneficial immigration can be for the receiving country. As the economist recently reported, it is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigration, such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain have better economic records than those that shun them. Immigrants bring new skills sets to the receiving country, hence why advanced economies compete so fiercely for outsiders’ skills. About 40% of science and engineering phDs working in America are immigrants. Yet this does not restrict the development of American society or its naturalised citizens. Indeed, it purely helps to advance this area of American life.

A parallel of sorts can be made with the recent influx of foreign talent into England’s Premiership. There are various studies into the crisis surrounding English football following the failure of the national team to qualify for the European championships. Most conclude by blaming the ever-increasing number of foreigners in the top division. For me this is rubbish. Does anyone seriously think that a cap on the number of foreigners would lead to a sudden goldmine of English talent being unearthed? Does anyone seriously believe that by giving the likes of Marlon King, Kevin Davies, Marlon Harewood the chance to shine at bigger clubs, they will come on leaps and bounds and solve the English striking problem at the moment. Put simply, if a player is good enough he will rise to the top.

There are examples of English talent being held back by not getting regular first team football. David Bentley at Arsenal is the most obvious example. However, watching him play for Blackburn, he is one of the only English players in the Premiership who has a touch, awareness and movement reminiscent of many of his foreign peers. No doubt much of this was learnt training with the likes of Pires, Henry and Giles Grimandi. The skills set has clearly been transferred. The real problems with England lie in the upbringing of potential future players. England has a relatively unique problem amongst the footballing super-countries. Our youngsters are addicted to computers, online networking sites, and consoles. No longer do they run home from school, to play on the local field till dark. Now they sit in front of a computer monitor. Those that do get a passion for football and display the necessary talent, have any ounce of individualism and creativity drilled out of them by youth team coaches desperate to win an under 15’s cup competition. At that age, football should be about enjoyment, expression and performance. Results should not matter. Shouts of “get rid”, “knock it long” should not be allowed. Unfortunately, until this is the case, England will continue to suffer at the highest echelons of world football.

This is not down to the influx of foreign talent and never will be. The best English talent will always rise to the top; it’s just that the pool of talent is getting smaller due to other outside factors. Indeed, if anyone had real cause to worry about the foreigners in our game, it’s the average, journeyman English footballer. Foreign players in lower divisions restrict the chances of average English players from earning a living through a sport. However, if we are focusing on the national team, this consequence would have absolutely no bearing on the success of England in world football.

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  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    I blame the technology revolution, as you rightly point out, kids would rather spend their time playing Pro Evolution Soccer or talking to people on Facebook then having a kick about.

    On the football front, unfortunately it’s all about the winning I’m afraid, our grass roots football is doomed, our youth are told to win at all costs. Go 1-0 up then hoof it and hold on, that’s the way I was taught.

  • Jake

    Excellent article, very well constructed.

    This is a very contentious issue, immigration has it’s positives and it’s negatives, as this is a football blog I won’t go into the political side of things, however tempting this may be.

    There is no denying that Foreign players have improved our game tenfold, Henry, Torres, Drogba, Fabregas & co wouldn’t have come to the Premier League if it wasn’t for Sky Sports.

    Sky have completely changed the way we watch football, with the amount of money in the game it was inevitable that the Premier League would be able to attract the top Foreign players eventually. The so called world class players like Steven Gerrard & Frank Lampard have benefited the most from the influx of these Foreign players.

    However, for every good Foreign player there are 4 bad ones, this is where the negatives are obvious for all to see. English players from the academy are not being giving the chance.

  • Iain

    Gilles Grimandi is class. I object to the underhand tactics the author uses to undermine this stallion of French football.

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