The new ‘home-grown’ ruling instigated by the Premier League for this coming season will see all twenty top-flight clubs having to register a 25-man squad list of eligible senior players (including eight players who have spent at least three seasons at an English or Welsh club before they turned 21, those under 21 do not count) in a bid to cut down on sides cluttering their rosters with foreign ‘talent’.
The selections must be submitted online to the Premier League by 5pm on the day following the close of each transfer window (i.e. 1st September and 3rd February for the 2010/11 season) and many clubs are already feeling the pinch of the new sanctions – thanks, largely, by being faced with having to gamble over the inclusion of players with long-standing injury problems.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has already bemoaned the plight of defender Jonathan Woodgate, who has been sidelined since his plasticine groin pinged during Spurs’ 9-1 demolishing of Wigan in November of last year.
Woodgate has since been flitting between America and Australia to receive various treatments and surgeries in a bid to aid his latest period of convalescence but to no avail, with Redknapp admitting that the 30-year-old centre-back is still ‘nowhere near’ to being able to kick a ball and that he is therefore likely to miss out on the impending cut;
“It must be really hard for him because he is nowhere near kicking a ball. He has been out for a year and he still has a long way to go. It would be impossible to put him in my 25 at the moment.
If he does not start playing before the start of the season, he has got no chance. You cannot have somebody in who is never going to play, who is not going to be fit. We will see how we go in January, but he is a long way off now.”
Woodgate made just three appearances in the Spurs first string last season, and is still some way short of amassing 250 senior starts in a career that has spanned almost twelve years – which makes for ominously sparse reading when you consider that he now faces missing out on at least another four months of prospective playing time.
Manchester United are facing similar dilemmas over the inclusions of midfield pair Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, who have both been out of action for considerable periods of time.
Along with his Tottenham counterpart Redknapp, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has also aired his concerns over the effects the ‘homegrown’ rule may have on his squad selection policy;
“It does give me a problem, but I have just got to wait as long as I can. I have to make a decision at some point of course and it depends on when I think those players can come back.
Most of the squad is formulated in my mind, but one or two [Hargreaves and Anderson] I still have to make decisions on.”
Hargreaves has made the paltry sum of 38 appearances for United since joining from Bayern Munich in 2007 and has now missed almost two full season’s worth of football due to a crippling double-knee tendinitis problem.
The former England international had been showing promising signs during his pre-season recuperation but then suffered another heart-breaking setback in his continual fight against the inevitable, after once again breaking down in training three weeks ago.
Anderson is not expected to resume training until September after rupturing a cruciate ligament in United’s win over West Ham in February, and is therefore likely to get the nod ahead of Hargreaves, who is now so far from making a comeback that the club have decided not to put a schedule on his latest attempt to return to fitness in a bid to alleviate (or at least dissipate) any detrimental external pressure.
However, the fact remains that long-term cases such as Hargreaves and Woodgate will now be staring over the precipice of their careers on a semi-annual basis thanks to the Premier League’s new ruling.
Does it not seem that, whereas before players were given the respite of being able to look forward whilst undergoing treatment, the new ‘homegrown statute’ serves to cast a more pessimistic perspective on the tribulations of players who struggle with long-term or persistent injury woes (think Andy Johnson of Fulham, Chris Kirkland of Wigan, potentially even players like Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie and Liverpool’s Fernando Torres) by introducing ‘cut-off’ points that could potentially signal the end of many-a-Premier League career?