by Adam Howard for World Football Commentaries
I sit down to write this article on the very eve of the 2010/11 Premier League season, and with England’s World Cup failure still agonisingly fresh in the memory. Which means that it is an apt time to consider the introduction of what has become known as the ‘25-man squad rule’, which is introduced to the Premier League this season and which many see as a sign that the Premier League has actually recognised its responsibility towards the future of English football.
However, as I will argue here, this is merely a small step in the right direction for English football, albeit a welcome one. Nothing major will change off the back of the introduction of this rule, but it does at least suggest that the Premier League – which until now has been very much caught up in its own phenomenal success – has realised the importance of its relationship with English football as a whole.
What is the 25-man rule?
But first, let us clarify what exactly the ’25-man squad rule’ actually is – because to be honest, it would perhaps be more accurately known as the ‘17-man squad rule’. Of course, it is named as it is because the new rules require each Premier League club to register a squad of no more than 25 players over the age of 21. However, this squad cap is only really important – indeed only really exists – so that each club can also register no more than 17 players over the age of 21 who are not considered to be ‘home-grown’.
A ‘home grown’ player is defined as a player of any nationality who has been registered to any club affiliated with the English or Welsh FA for at least three seasons before they turn 21. On top of the 25 players over the age of 21 (of whom 8 must be home-grown) that each club registers, they are free to field any player (home-grown or otherwise) under the age of 21.
Limits on Foreign Players
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, right, with new signing Mario Balotelli
after a press conference held at the Carrington Training ground, Manchester, England,
Tuesday Aug. 17, 2010. Balotelli was signed from Inter Milan.
Image and text courtesy of AP. Picture source courtesy of Daylife.com.
What this means, basically, is that the Premier League is simultaneously limiting the amount of foreign players a club can register and encouraging the development of young British talent at its elite clubs, in a bid to counter claims that the Premier League, and its emphasis on buying rather than raising, is overtly responsible for the English national team’s failings in recent years.
The moniker ‘the 25-man squad rule’ is inappropriate really, because no club will actually be limited to a squad of 25 players. Every Premier League club will field players aged 21 or below, and so I prefer to look at it as a ’17-man squad rule’ because only 17 non-home-grown players may represent any club in one given season. That, really, is the major change.
But, it also demonstrated clearly why this new set of rules is only a small step in the right direction for the Premier League, and not an effective measure to kick start the development of young British talent in the top flight. Because in the previous paragraph I write “only 17 non-home-grown players may represent any club in one given season”, which seems almost paradoxical.
Ways Around the Rule?After all, on any given match day a Premier League club can name a match squad of 18 players, which means that a club could theoretically abide by the new rules and still not field any home-grown players at all throughout their Premier League season, supposing that for each fixture they named at least one home-grown player on the bench, and didn’t use him.
Steven Gerrard of Liverpool Football Club.
For instance, Liverpool – who currently have the most non-home-grown players of any Premier League club (yes, more even than Man City at the time of writing, as Mario Balotelli has not yet completed his move) – could name the following XI and substitutes for every game this season:
(Editor's Note: Balotelli has finalized his transfer to Manchester City from Internazionale.)
Agger – Skrtel – Kyrgiakos – Aurelio
Mascherano – Poulsen
Kuyt – Jovanovic – Milovanovic
Subs: Cavalieri, Aquilani, Lucas, Babel, Rodriguez. El Zhar, Gerrard.
Of course, the likelihood of this occurring is extremely slim. For one, Gerrard will play whenever he is fit, and the likes of Joe Cole and Glen Johnson will probably be first choice too. Then there is the fact that injuries are a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ in the modern game, but this should illustrate the fact that allowing clubs to register “only 17 non-home-grown players” is actually a very small step indeed.
In fact, if you consult the BBC’s handy squad analysis you’ll note that most of the current crop of Premier League clubs will not be affected by the new rules really at all, as most clubs don’t currently have close to 17 foreign players over the age of 21 registered to them.
And then when you consider those clubs who may have to leave some of their over-21 players unregistered for the current season, it seems as though it may in fact be the ‘home-grown’ players who miss out on making the final 25.
Let’s look at Manchester City, for example, and list all of their current squad that are over the age of 21.
Home grown: Gareth Barry, Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bridge, Kelvin Etuhu, Shay Given, Joe Hart, Stephen Ireland, Adam Johnson, Michael Johnson, Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, Stuart Taylor, Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Non-Home grown: Emmanuel Adebayor, Jerome Boateng, Felipe Caicedo, Nigel De Jong, David Gonzales, Jo, Aleksandar Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz, David Silva, Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure, Patrick Vieira, Pablo Zabaleta.
Incoming: Mario Balotelli, James Milner.
Here the names in red (to follow) are the players that will most likely be included in Man City’s 25 man squad come September 1st. Assuming, as seem a safe bets, that Mario Balotelli and James Milner arrive, Robinho doesn’t go anywhere and Stephen Ireland leaves, I’ve picked 24 out of 25 players (there could well be another summer arrival) and it’s clear to see that the British players miss out more readily than the foreign ones.
What this all means, really, is that any optimism about the future based on the implementation of the Premier League’s new rules is a little premature. While injuries etc. will almost certainly mean that home-grown players do get more of a chance than they may have done in the past, the rules are loose enough to allow most clubs to continue to depend mostly on their foreign imports.
Step in the Right Direction
That said though, it is not all doom and gloom, because this is at least a step in the right direction, however small a step it is. It shows that the Premier League have at last recognised their responsibility to the English game and have started to take action. What we must ensure, is that this is not the only action taken, and that the ‘25-man squad rule’ is not a token gesture from the money men at the Premier League.
If this initiative is to have a long-term impact on the development of English footballing talent and the success of the Three Lions in future World Cups and European Championships, this has to be a stepping stone to greater things. Change does not come easily in football, especially when the clubs with most of the power – the ‘big four’ – are those who have made the most use of foreign players in the Premier League era.
Let us hope then, that this is not an attempt by the Premier League to pacify the nation without upsetting their biggest assets. Let us hope that they are hoping to ease their biggest assets into constructive development to benefit the national game, which will mean that in another season or two the limit on non-home-grown players must come down again.
Finally, let me say that I am in no way suggesting that non-home-grown players have no place or value in English football. The Premier League is the great league that it is because it does attract such amazing foreign talent, and we all count ourselves fortunate that we are able to see such players on show at our clubs week in and week out.
However, it is important that a balance is struck, because for every brilliant foreign player that pulls on a club shirt, we need to see young English players doing the same. Any fan will tell you the immense satisfaction of seeing local boys made good playing in their team – as an Evertonian I am just as thrilled to see Jack Rodwell playing in our midfield as I am to see the mercurial Mikel Arteta.
If this is to continue, and if as hoped the England team can be revitalised towards future success by youngsters such as Rodwell and Wilshere, then the ‘25-man squad rule’ can only be the beginning. Let us hope that this Premier League season is not only great in terms of its usual drama, excitement and entertainment, but also because it marks the beginning of a brighter future for English football as a whole.
About the Author
Adam Howard is the founder of They Think It’s All Over…
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