Oh No! The Big Bad Foreigner Is Coming to Ruin English Football!

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

I am so sick and tired of England’s failures on the international stage being blamed on foreigners. Now FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants to challenge the EU laws that prohibit quotas on foreign players.

He says: “‘This is a matter of principle and we need to protect the national identity of the football clubs,” and “When you have 11 foreigners in a team, this is not good for the development of football.” He also goes on to say that footballers “are not workers” and therefore shouldn’t be protected by the EU’s labor laws. If they’re not workers, then what exactly are they getting paid for again?

This is the kind of xenophobic fear mongering that I’ve just had enough of. They are too many of them! England doesn’t develop enough good, young players! Ban the foreigners! Brits are good enough for us! It’s Wenger’s fault—he doesn’t start any Englishmen! He should put the success of a national team he doesn’t care about above, you know, doing his job (which is, if you remember, to win games for Arsenal).

Can we please all give this a rest? First of all, the EPL is either the best or second best league in the world and the most popular. This is because the best managers in England try to find the best players, not the best English players, not the best British players, but the best players, period. You put a quota on the number of foreign players, you put a quota on quality.

Also, I won’t get too deep into the moral, political and legal issues of stipulating what employees a business can have based on something so arbitrary as country of origin, but what if I said, for instance, the following: “I think Chelsea has too many black players. It’s affecting the development of our young white players. You should only be able to start two black players on any team.” Would that really be all that much less ridiculous? (Yes, I know there’s no “White Racial Team” or whatever it would be called, but as I’ll try to prove, having more foreigners in the league has almost no effect on the quality of the national squad, so this is really just a prejudiced desire to get rid of those pesky foreigners.)

This is a free market people; if you’re good at your job, you get the best deal for the cheapest price. If you limited the number of foreigners on a team, that would drive the price of Brits even higher than their already ridiculously high levels, forcing teams to pay more for less. Consider for instance, that Martin Petrov cost a little over £4m while Portsmouth was asking for £8m for Matty Taylor’s services.

Taylor is a lot closer to being half as valuable as Petrov than being twice as valuable, but because he’s English, he’s “worth” twice as much money. Now imagine a league where a team has to start, let’s say, four Brits. Then what is Taylor “worth”? £12m? £15m? Where does it end?

I suppose you can make a reasonable argument that people like Wenger have a bias against Brits—he could probably use both Pennant and Bentley right now. But would you really want anything to change at the most beautiful team in the Prem if not the whole world? And where exactly does it say in his job description that, in addition to winning games, he should also be producing young English talent? His job is to make Arsenal the best team possible, simple as that. Helping England doesn’t—and shouldn’t—enter his thought process. Finally, is England really worse because Pennant and Bentley aren’t at Arsenal anymore? Good players find a place to play, pretty much no matter what.

Now, let’s consider the theory that England isn’t developing enough good players, regardless of the reasons behind it. Well, right now, the national team is pretty stacked, with the likes of Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand, Hargreaves and Owen.

But I assume you all must mean that there aren’t any good young players coming up then? Right, because the nucleus of Rooney, Lennon, Young, Walcott, Bentley, Agbonlahor, Ashton, Richards, Noble and Taylor is just absolutely atrocious. Surely even Bulgaria must have a better crop of young footballers than that bunch of no talent losers. Honestly, if you got the right coach, England’s U-21 team (including the players already on the senior side) has more than enough talent to qualify for the World Cup. Talent is NOT, repeat is NOT, the problem with England’s international fortunes.

What is the problem? Oh, I’m not really sure. I still think Steve McLaren is a bad coach, no matter how well the most recent friendlies went. They don’t have a good enough goalkeeper (which must be the foreigners’ fault!). Their managers have a history of choosing players because of their names and not because of how they fit into the team. The argument that England’s coaching system doesn’t produce technical players may have some merit (though I fail to see how Beckham, Scholes and David Bentley aren’t “technical”). Also, I think luck, plain and simple, has been a big, if certainly not the only, factor. These international competitions are all cup competitions, and therefore, heavily dependent on having the bounces fall your way, especially in the penalty shootouts.

Anyway, whatever you think the reason is that England has lost so many times of late on the big stage, can we at least agree that it’s not because of a lack of talent, and therefore, not a product of too many players from outside of Britain in the Premiership taking all the opportunities away? It wasn’t when foreigners started entering the Prem in droves that the Three Lions stopped winning big. It had already been a long time since the last World Cup victory. What adding European, South American and African players did do is make the EPL one of the two most exciting leagues in the world, with four of the very best teams in the world, and has actually probably forced British players to get better to keep up.

The simple truth is foreigners have been good, not bad, for the English game, and the campaign to expel them ignores the facts and smacks of xenophobia.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens Football Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here.

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