Peter Hoskin

The changing face of English football

The changing face of English football
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As Fraser said earlier, we've got a great piece by Mihir Bose in the latest issue of the mag on British football's debt crisis.  I would normally say that non-football fans should look away now, but the story is so redolent of the entire financial crisis that it's worth any CoffeeHouser's time.  What you'll find is a tale of big clubs, big egos and even bigger debts – the latter running into billions of pounds.

Much of this debt has been down to financial brinkmanship on the part of football club owners and chairmen.  Even though money has been pouring into the English game from global television deals and the like, they've been spending money to buy players, and fund wage structures, that they simply can't afford.  This has left many clubs close to ruin.  But it has also limited opportunities for young, British players.  Why wait for national talent to develop when a few £million will buy a finished article from the Continent?

This point has been apparent to football fans for years now.  But The Spectator has put some numbers on it.  Our analysis shows that 44 percent of the footballers who actually played (or appeared on the bench) in the opening season of the English Premier League (1992-93) were British under-25s. Now, that number has dropped to 17 percent.  Here is the table which spells it out:

  1992-93 2009-10 (so far)

Total number of footballers who played in the Premier League

569 604
Number of British footballers who played in the Premier League 500 262
Of which, aged under-25 254 104
British ratio, all ages 87% 43%
British ratio, aged under-25 44% 17%

Now, this doesn't mean the influx of foreign players has been a bad thing in itself.  From Eric Cantona to Cristiano Ronaldo, we British football fans have had the pleasure of witnessing, at first-hand, some of the greatest players in the international game.  And those English players who have broken through into the highest levels of the British leagues – the Rooneys, Ferdinands and Gerrards – will have benefitted from playing against and alongside them.  But it does leave some massive concerns for the national side.  Foremost among them: where is the next generation of English players coming from?

Of course, football's financial crisis could change things.  It could encourage clubs to spend less money abroad, and rely more on homegrown talent.  But, as Mihir writes, the huge debts that clubs are facing is likely to make them even more reliant on billionaire backers – who will effectively write off the debts before using their cheque books in the international transfer markets again.  In which case, the opportunities for homegrown players may have dried up for some time to come.

P.S. We'll try and get a pdf of more detailed tables, with team-by-team breakdowns, up on the site later.  In the meantime, do fire me an email on phoskin @ if you'd like a copy.