One of England’s brightest young stars Patrick Roberts signed for Manchester City for around £8million this week after the former Fulham graduate made a superb start to his career in the Championship last season, catching the eye not just of Premier League scouts, but allegedly of PSG as well.
Such a young talent moving to one of the nation’s biggest clubs should be cause for celebration for England fans, who every year or so, seem to cite yet another bright young spark to be the next big thing and brand new hope for English football. After all, if Manchester City deem him good enough to spend £8million on him after just 19 league appearances then this kid must really be quality – fantastic! Bring on Russia 2018!
But as we all know, prices for English players have become supremely inflated. Demand for domestic talent continues to rise as clubs (well the top ones in particular) scramble to try and fill their ‘home grown’ quota.
This quota was put in place to try and encourage English clubs to produce English talent. But there are various ways around it. Non-English players can be classed as ‘home-grown’ providing that they’ve trained in the country for at least 3 years prior to their 21st birthday. Infamously, players like Cesc Fàbregas, Gael Clichy, Alex Song, Asmir Begović and Morgan Schneiderlin all count as home grown players, and if a club cannot fill the necessary home grown requirement of 8 players, they can simply reduce the size of their squad in accordance to how many HG players they are short. (Last season Chelsea reduced their squad size from 25 to 20 because they only had 3 home grown players).
The rule is put there to try and force clubs to produce their own English talent by investing in their academies and promoting players from their youth teams to the senior squad, as opposed to signing players from abroad. But as we’ve seen, many clubs prefer to take the easy route and will continue to do so as long as the opportunity remains there for them.
Instead of the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United creating conveyor belts of young talent, something akin to Barcelona’s La Masia, and helping to improve the quality of English footballers, they simply cause the market for English players to become over-inflated by spending over the odds for someone else’s bright blue ribbon.
Quite a lot of the time, these players are bought simply to fill the quota, and the clubs barely have any intention of putting the players in their starting eleven. Manchester City have recently signed Fabian Delph, and while the season is yet to begin, it’s unlikely that the former Villa man will have a starting role in Manuel Pellegrini’s side. He looks set to join Scott Sinclair, Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell in the list of promising English players who wasted their talent by choosing the City bench over a mid-table starting spot.
Chelsea have bought Asmir Begović and look set to keep the recalled Victor Moses, two non-English players who count as home grown, yet who are far more likely to see the back of José Mourinho’s silvering hairline from their view on the bench than they are to be kicking any balls this season.
Manchester United, who in all fairness have a decent record of producing and promoting their youth players, have paid big money for other people’s young talents. Phil Jones and Luke Shaw set the club back £43.5million alone! (And let’s not forget Arsenal who pinch Southampton’s most prized and promising youngster every few years too).
The rule seems nothing but an inconvenience for the top clubs. An inconvenience that they can get around fairly easily however. Like a schoolboy who is catching up on work he missed while he was off sick, he knows he won’t learn anything, but he’ll definitely be asking his mates for their homework to copy from at some point. When presented with short-cuts, people will take them. That’s life. These short-cuts need to be removed.
But a change in culture and in attitude, not just in rules, is what’s needed before we can expect clubs to really give a damn about the future of the English game and to really want to produce their own players.
Chelsea are after Everton’s John Stones and it seems that the Merseyside club won’t be accepting anything under £30million for the youngster. It seems a smart investment from the Champions, albeit a rather pricey one. Stones looks a promising player, but only a fool would fail to realise that Chelsea’s interest in him is largely fuelled by need to fill their quota, and with John Terry nearing the end of his career, the time to look for his replacement, both for the player and his ‘home grown’ status, is now.
But as a potential England star of the future, would Stones’ career be better served in Everton’s first team, rather than through sporadic Chelsea appearances? Chelsea’s defence was impenetrable at times last season and Mourinho is no tinker man; he loves to stick with the same XI as much as he can afford to. Stones would find it difficult to get in Chelsea’s side right away and what would face him as a result is the prospect of the bench, or perhaps a year or two away in Holland at ‘Chelsea B’ (or Vitesse Arnhem as they’re otherwise known).
The home grown rule is doing very little to increase the amount of English talent being produced at the top clubs, but this is where it even starts to become potentially damaging. John Stones may well be destined for years at the top with a club like Chelsea, but right now, the best thing for him is regular, competitive football.
Which brings us back to Patrick Roberts. He had a fantastically bright career ahead of him in the Championship with Fulham, now it’s unlikely we’ll even hear his name, let alone see him on a football pitch for the next few years. City have snapped up a player who they believe may help to fill their quota for the next decade or so… at least it’s worth an £8million risk. He might well be a star of the future, and you can guarantee that Fulham would have given him every chance to be. Will Manchester City? Only if suits them and he turns out to be stellar, if not, £8million isn’t so bad for a squad player anyway.
Perhaps it’s time for a change. Greg Dyke, Chairman of the FA, has recently proposed a new plan to make the rules on home grown players more strict. It consists of changing the age at which three seasons of training must have been completed in order to qualify as home grown (from 21 down to 18); a reduction in the maximum number of non home grown players allowed; and an introduction of a requirement that at least two players must be trained at the club for three years prior to their 18th birthday.
These rule changes will go some way into forcing clubs to act but a change in attitude towards youth academies also needs to happen. Instead of it being the case of “we’ll promote them if they’re good enough”, youth academies should be prioritised as a major source of incoming players and clubs needs to feel that it is their responsibility to produce their own players.
Perhaps spoiled by the golden generation of English players which featured the likes of Michael Owen, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney, the current level of quality in the England national side seems awful by comparison. Yes, the golden generation under achieved, but between 2000 and 2008 we as a nation could boast some of the best players on the planet. But no longer.
Attention needs to turn to the development of the next generation and making clubs prioritise youth promotion is a big must for the FA. English talent is suffering under the current home grown rules, which are an excuse of an incentive for clubs to blood their own young players, and we’re in danger losing the next generation to the benches of our top sides. A change in rules and indeed in attitude couldn’t come soon enough.