Once upon a time, I recall Chelsea (pre Abramovich) being accused of destroying the British game by picking teams full of foreigners. Jon Harley (remember him?) and co were wheeled out as examples of how the best British talent was being wasted in favour of the quick fix of foreign players who were actually no better.
Right now, the same argument is taking place. However, Chelsea are a little better placed by having Terry, A.Cole, Bridge, J.Cole, Lampard, Wright-Phillips all in the England squad and Sidwell also looking to compete for a midfield berth. Arsenal appear to be the new Chelsea – about 7 or 8 years behind us, which is surely as it should be.
The pathetic booing of these same English players (Derby fans, Terry & Ashley Cole didn’t play you know) would suggest that we may have too MANY in the squad, but knowing these players as we do from watching them week in, week out I’m sure most of us are happy with them in general. And let’s face it, it’s easy for Derby to boo them as they have no one of that standard of their own to castigate. Roy Keane came out in the press and called the English players ‘big heads’ just before his team of workers capitulated 7:1 to Everton.
Platini says England will lose its’ identity if anyone other than an Englishman takes charge (but, being French, does he have an ingrained fear of England doing well? I know I do). But has Johnny Foreigner REALLY destroyed English international football? After all, we’ve been told that the current crop of players are the ‘Golden Age’ of English football and simply bad management has seen them fail. Was Eriksson REALLY that inept? Was there no plan B or were the players simply not up to playing in any other way? McClaren obviously didn’t improve things – would Allardyce, Redknapp or Coppell?
Did John Terry come through the ranks to play at the top level whilst Michael Duberry ended up as a poor alibi for the racially challenged Lee Bowyer through simple luck? Or is it possible that Terry was an exceptional talent who thrived on the experience on offer from the likes of Frank LeBoeuf and Marcel Desailly whilst Doobs was good, but not quite good enough?
Looking back through history, how successful have England been? They won the World Cup in 1966 at home (and no, I have no idea why England hasn’t been chosen to host the even since) and failed to win the European Championships with home advantage (Greece managed it). They failed to even qualify for two World Cups in 1974 & 1978 and have flattered to deceive in virtually every tournament. Much of this has been prior to the influx of foreign talent, which I suppose we can say started in earnest after the 1978 world cup when Ardiles & Villa joined Spuds.
The Liverpool induced ban from European club competition undoubtedly played a part in promoting our very insular outlook on tactics, although this is virtually ignored in the debate. Worth mentioning also that English players weren’t exactly in the majority in the vaunted Liverpool team of the 70’s. Plenty of English players in the Chelsea teams of the same period though, for all the good it did us.
Spain is also rolled out as an example of a domestic league filled with imports impacting negatively upon the national side, but haven’t Spain always been a bit like that? If you use Spain to prove the point, it’s equally easy to introduce Italy to disprove it. Plenty of overseas talent in their leagues over the years yet the national side consistently goes far and wins a fair percentage of international matches and tournaments.
My own view is that a good English player can only benefit from playing with a good overseas player. He will learn different ideas, outlooks and approaches will learn that extra training is more helpful than extra drinking sessions, pasta is better than a fry up, passing makes ball retention easier than wellying out of defence. As Terry learned from his peers, surely someone must have learned from Zola (who himself learned from Maradonna – an import into Zola’s native Serie A). Could Sidwell not learn from Ballack? Mikel from Makelele? Sahar from Drogba?
If I may use a personal experience to emphasise the point, I play seven a side every Monday. Some of us are in our 40’s or 50’s, some in the 18-23 bracket. It has always been a bit of a welly and chase game if truth be told. Recently four Argentineans from the local tapas bar started playing. The changes have been subtle, but more noticeable when they don’t turn up. If they play, everyone seems happy to play the pass and move game, when they’re away the football reverts to type – long balls and solo runs. But after 5 or 6 weeks you can see that certain facets of their play have made an impression. We’ve seen that some things work and we’re happy to give it a go. And it works sometimes! We can play flowing football – maybe only for 15 or 20 of the 90 minutes right now, but that’s 15 or 20 more than previously. If we can do it, there’s no reason why professionals can’t.
Surely then, the answer isn’t to reduce the number of foreigners playing in the Premiership – it’s increase the number of foreigners involved in the England setup? If that’s right then Chelsea has pretty much got the balance that will help England in the next few years – It’s a blueprint that the FA should embrace.