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Football’s Going Home(-grown)

The Premier League have introduced a home-grown player rule and a limit on squad sizes – both of which will come into effect from next season.

The 20 Premier League clubs have voted to introduce the measures which will see all teams limited to a squad of 25 of which eight players must be ‘home-grown’.

The changes were confirmed this morning by Richard Scudamore, Chief Executive of the Premier League.

“As of next season clubs will be required to have a squad named of up to 25 players, of which no more than 17 can be over the age of 21 and not home grown,” Scudamore said.

“The definition of home grown is trained for three years under the age of 21 by somebody in the English and Welsh professional system.

“Clubs will have to declare their 25 at the end of August when the window shuts and then again at the end of January.”

It was reported back in May this year that such a plan was in the pipeline, as a ‘significant majority’ of EPL clubs voted for its introduction. Interestingly, the decision has been finalized today, after the recent Kakuta and Pogba scandals at Chelsea and Manchester United respectively, and while I believe that this can only be a good move for English football, it does make me wonder whether this will lead to more and more talented teens will be poached from around the globe.

Scudamore does not this to be the case and claims the England team will ultimately reap the reward.

“It’s not in the club’s interests to stockpile players. It will make buying home-grown talent more attractive,” he said.

“We’re not going down the route of a nationality test but what this will mean is that you just can’t buy a team from abroad.

“We think it will give clubs an extra incentive to invest in youth. We think that one of the benefits will be that it will help the England team.”

This may prove to be the case. In recent years the European nations that have had the most success in major international tournaments – Spain and Italy – have situations where it is almost an unwritten rule that if you are not playing in your home league, you are overlooked. While there are obviously a few high-profile exceptions to this, generally their national teams are selected from the best players in their league, and – particularly in Spain and France – talented youngsters are thrown into club set-ups much earlier and given their chance to shine.

Obviously the finest example of this (and presumably of what Scudamore & co are trying to achieve) is at Barcelona, where Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Puyol, Pique etc are combined with an array of foreign talent. This gives Barca the identity that creates the fierce local pride and passion, whilst still involving the purchase of some of the world’s finest stars. The perfect balance. A successful one too.

It would be interesting to find out the teams that voted yes for this one. ‘Significant majority’ to me implies that maybe everyone except Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea would have been up for it.

The first and the last on this list will be cursing their luck. Manchester City can no longer buy the world’s best squad, they have to form one. They may have nine English and Welsh players in their squad, but only Michael Johnson fits the age criteria. Chelsea, on the other hand, sit top of the league with 18 foreign stars in their squad and, unlike City, are unable to buy their way out of the problem, with a transfer ban of them for the next two windows – the only two opportunities to change squads and adapt to the rules.

You can see why many sides in the EPL would vote for it. With more British managers in the league than there has been for a long time, many will have done it for the benefit of the national team. Clubs like Aston Villa and Tottenham could see themselves closing the gap on the big sides, while those that get promoted (and are usually scrapping for survival) could stand a better chance.

Finally the clubs that have spent their money on developing a good youth system, will know that this could give them an advantage in years to come. West Ham and Arsenal, for instance, will be rubbing their hands in glee with the likes of Mark Noble and Jack Wilshire running their respective midfields for years to come…

People may see this structure as being flawed, with the big clubs again having the advantage of a better scouting and training system, buying foreign kids and training them until 21 (or loaning them out domestically) until they qualify. But it does mean that in the short-term English signings will be an attractive option and so it is a step in the right direction. In the long-term, FIFA are likely to put a restriction on under-age transfers anyway, and so this may not even be an issue.

Whether the oh-so-important ‘competitive balance’ is promoted because of these changes, only time will tell. Until under-age transfers are restricted, or there are starting line-up limitations such as the 6+5 rule, my guess would be that the big sides still have the advantage. But there are massive advantages.

The England team is bound to benefit, with future stars blooded much earlier because places in top flight squads will be guaranteed. It is also bound to help address the ‘distribution of wealth’ issue in the Football League, as Premier League clubs will be spending money on the top English and Welsh players from the leagues below, who can then in turn, use that money to aid their own academies.

Finally, I think it will be a great thing for supporters. We all enjoy our club signing an exciting overseas star, but – and be honest – how much more do you enjoy seeing the local boy wearing the shirt he has dreamed about playing in?

Think Owen at Liverpool, Shearer at Newcastle, Terry at Chelsea and the wealth of British stars before that. Think the heroes of the past – Matthews, Finney, Linekar, Moore – the stars that created the local identities we still cling to desperately as fans – the identities we were on the edge of losing.

Hopefully this move will ensure that this never happens, and local heroes start to become more commonplace in English football. You never know, we might actually start to believe people kissing the badge…