Opinion | Monday, 9th July 2018
World Cup 2018: How to keep England’s talent pipeline flowing
Master of Sport Directorship graduate and sports executive Crawford Chalmers on English and European football youth development #AnatomyofaWorldCup
Q&A with Crawford Chalmers, graduate of the Master in Sport Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan and former Head of Football Operations at Oxford United Football Club
1) How does the impact of a high level of overseas players in the Premier League affect the England team? Does it stop younger players getting opportunities – or does it raise the standard of the existing players?
The simple answer is yes – it has had a massive impact on the number of opportunities for younger players, particularly young English players. Looked at in more detail, the evidence is clear. Throughout the 2015/16 EPL season, only 31% of starts were by players qualified to play for England, in comparison to 69% during the inaugural EPL season of 1992/93. The graphic below shows how this figure has decreased dramatically in recent years and, perhaps more prevalently, since the EPL was formed in 1992:
This has had a profound effect on the fortunes of the senior England national team, which has had a significantly smaller pool of players to choose from in comparison to more successful countries such as Spain and Germany. For example, on average, just 68 English players started each EPL game week during the 2015/16 season out of a possible 220, a record low. When looking more broadly across the entire spectrum of development, just 2% of scholars that are signed to professional clubs at the age of 16 are still playing football at the age of 21 and only 0.5% of under 9s academy players will make it through to first team level.
The simple answer is yes – it has had a massive impact on the number of opportunities for younger players, particularly young English players
The chart below illustrates the percentage of foreign players in the big five European league. The chart shows that England, at 66.4%, has significantly more foreign players playing in the Premier League than Spain and Germany have playing in La Liga and the Bundesliga respectively. Further to the above, the table below illustrates that the Premier League recruits the most foreign players of all the big five leagues (highlighted in red):
It would appear from the data that unfortunately short termism at the top level is rife, where the product the Premier League has produced has completely outgrown the need for player development within clubs, and consequently you either sign players to win the league/survive in the league.
The other side of the argument is that recruiting young foreign players to academies of EPL clubs can actually have a mutually beneficial effect, whereby a culture is created that is advantageous to the development potential of all players involved.
2) Has the ‘Homegrown Player Rule’ had an impact? If so, how?
Firstly, as a reminder, in order to count as ‘home-grown’ each player must conform to the following criteria:
- 21 or older on January 1 of the year the season begins
- Has spent at least three years between the ages of 16-21 in the English football league system
- You do not have to still be at the same club as the one who developed you
Therefore, the rule applies regardless of nationality and as such players such as Cesc Fabregas are considered ‘home-grown’, owing to the years he spent at Arsenal as a teenager. Cesc Fabregas has 115 caps for Spain.
At the beginning of each new season, each of the 20 Premier League clubs must submit a 25-man squad, with a minimum of eight home-grown players. However, clubs can name less than eight by entering less than a full 25-man squad. Chelsea are one such squad to have done this in recent years. When you dissect club lists in detail, you tend to find that the clubs with the least minutes played by ‘home-grown’ players were those clubs competing in European competitions, where the experience and minutes played would be the best preparation for England games.
As a final thought on the home-grown rule, is it still relevant in the modern game? Ultimately most football fans consider winning to be the most important thing. So how many of them really care about how many English players their club produces? Personally, I think it is very important to have such measures, but I’m not convinced that this is a view shared by many fans of the game.
I do believe we are starting to see the benefits of the England DNA that was created in 2014.
3) What would you like to see happen in the Premier League/England for continued success of England in World Cups?
I’d like to start by saying that I do believe we are starting to see the benefits of the England DNA that was created in 2014. The results of the junior England teams at recent international tournaments is an indicator of this. Designed by the FA, it features five core elements that are collaborated in order to enhance the playing and coaching philosophy for England teams and to create a vision of what a future senior England international will look like:
The England DNA consists of 5 core elements:
· WHO WE ARE
· HOW WE PLAY
· THE FUTURE ENGLAND PLAYER
· HOW WE COACH
· HOW WE SUPPORT
The following are what I would suggest for future success:
- Change, however much it is resented and resisted, must be embraced in English football for the benefit of the future game. Tradition will always have a place in the game but for progress to be achieved change must be implemented and data respected for what it can offer by way of evidence to help make these changes
- The recommendations made by Greg Dyke as part of his FA Chairman’s England Commission in 2014 should be revisited, most notably the Strategic Loan Partnership and the B Team system, since it is clear from the evidence that these ideas have proven successful in Europe and would definitely be worth consideration in England
- The FA should invest to ensure that facilities and infrastructure at lower levels of English football beneath the Premier League are outstanding in order to develop future England internationals, since the statistics suggest that this is where many will start their careers and make their professional debuts (something I will show in a later question)
- Talent identification and development pathway proposals should be continuously updated and independently evaluated against models from other sports in order to progress the talent that is evidently present across England
4) Is the academy system providing the pipeline of talent needed or are young home players unable to get the opportunities (and now seem to be seeking opportunities in other national leagues)?
The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), that was devised in 2011, is a youth development scheme initiated by the Premier League. The EPPP has changed the outlook of many clubs towards youth development. Perhaps the most controversial decision of EPPP was to allow clubs with a Category One rated academy to source players anywhere in the country without geographical limitations. This has resulted in Category One clubs being able to ‘cream off’ the best talent from other clubs and has resulted in some clubs questioning the worth of their academies. Indeed, Huddersfield and Brentford are amongst the most high profile clubs to recently close their academies. This has affected the development pathways at Category One clubs because there are now numerous players vying for the same few positions. Such clubs also have the financial strength to spend huge sums of money in the transfer market to buy a ‘ready-made’ player for the first team. This issue has created a further blockage in the development pathway for elite young English players.
The issue of ‘stock-piling’ talent, that various Category One clubs with vast financial resources are often accused of, is something that can be seen
The loan system, and the way that English top flights clubs operate within it, is a related topic to development pathways for elite young players that has also garnered much debate. During the 2015/16 season, Chelsea had a total of 33 players out on loan at various clubs across England and mainland Europe, and as such have been accused of stockpiling young talent, despite a lack of first team opportunities. The issue of ‘stock-piling’ talent, that various Category One clubs with vast financial resources are often accused of, is something that can be seen in data and is backed up through the opinion of those interviewed. In 2016, Chelsea had 82 players contracted to the club. However, it would appear that the therefore limited opportunities such players are receiving to play first team football is consequently hampering the speed of their development.
The other side of the argument is the positive aspect of ‘stock-piling’ by elite clubs. The financial might of Category One clubs ensures each player receives an excellent education in a positive environment. So it could be argued that young players are better off at elite clubs who will spend several millions on the player’s education on and off the pitch than the smaller clubs. Perhaps there is something to be said for giving young players the best education at the best possible club until they reach the age of 16, and then moving elsewhere to get game time and gain experience?
The table below shows the club and competition in which the 23 players selected to represent England at the World Cup this summer made their debut at. Of the 23 players, only two players made their debut in the Premier League, with many players making their debut further down the league pyramid:
In conclusion opportunity is the most important ingredient in talent development, and as such a phrase coined by Nick Cox of Manchester United is one that resonates with me: ‘Talent + Opportunity = Success’.
5) Would a European-style system work better with club’s second teams competing in the lower leagues?
Whilst not a popular view, I am of the opinion that a European-style system would be beneficial, particularly to the England set-up. It would enable a club version of the England DNA that has recently been implemented at international level, whereby players would be following the same strategy, would be assured of premium coaching, and be fully aligned with the club objectives. The statistics I unearthed two years ago support this.
The purpose to players that a successfully run B Team system can provide to a domestic side and, in the long run, a national set-up, is clear to see from data
Back in 2016, the Spanish Euro 2016 squad contained 19 players of the 23-man squad who started their senior professional careers at B Team sides. Just three players made their debuts at a club in a big five league, with the rest starting at a lower level. Additionally, the German Euro 2016 squad contained 18 players of the 23-man squad who started their senior professional careers at B Team sides. Just four players made their debuts at a club in a big five league, with the rest starting at a lower level. The purpose to players that a successfully run B Team system can provide to a domestic side and, in the long run, a national set-up, is clear to see from data. The model of B Teams at Real Madrid and Barcelona certainly shows us how something that systematic can work. A further example would be the case of Eric Dier, who played for Sporting Lisbon B 48 times (in addition to a loan at Everton).
One concern to implementing a similar system in England, for example at League 2 level, would be the feeling that perhaps the quality of competition would not be strong enough at that level to further develop the young players. For example, it could be argued that the standard of football that Barcelona B play at is of a higher quality than League 2. Another potential negative impact would be the impact on the ownership structure within the Football League, with the implementation of B Teams resulting in the displacement of some League Two clubs. However, it is my firm belief that in 20 to 30 years’ time, there will be significantly fewer professional clubs running in England.
Much of the information and data in these responses is taken from “Development Pathways in Football: Analysis of the Past, Present and Future to Address the Issue of the Declining Number of Young English Players Playing at the Highest Level” by Crawford Chalmers (2016).
The Master of Sport Directorship (MSD) is a part-time executive level course delivered on site at Manchester Metropolitan University over two years. The world’s first qualification of its kind, now in its fourth year, is aimed at professionals who want to gain a unique Masters qualification that prepares them for the role of sporting director.