Football. A sport once played by English players who would earn the same amount of money as you or I, just by doing a different kind of job. A sport once dominated by English teams even as recently as the early 80s when Nottingham Forest and our own boys were winning the European Cup.
Football has changed, and so has our standing as a nation.
Nowadays, we are used to footballers earning a hundred or two hundred grand for the pleasure of being a footballer. We’re used to hearing about their antics – fighting in bars, crashing massively expensive cars, and spit roasting girls with their team mates in lavish hotel rooms. If nothing else it brings a whole meaning to the term “box to box midfielder”.
I say we, and by that I mean people of this fine country of England. We are in a time where money is splashed around with wanton abandon like it’s going out of fashion. Sure these players bring in revenue (we all pay out for season tickets, shirts and merchandise) but we’re seeing capitalism gone mad currently.
We have the majority of the Premier League now owned by foreign investors with billions in the bank and a hawk eye for either making money off the peak of football’s indulgence, or being a sugar daddy buying the latest “must have toy” for the super rich oligarchs, sheiks, or finance barons.
Amidst all of that, one thing never fails to surprise me about the economics of the game. That particular issue is why English players are quoted as being so expensive. The relevance of this particular point? Well our own trusted captain of the ship, Martin O'Neill, is a big fan of English players. So much so that (for the majority of his purchases) he buys English.
So let’s look at history. When was the last time an English team won anything? Before anyone reels off the 2007/2008 European Cup by Manchester United, just how many of those players were English? So why in God’s name are English players valued so highly?
We haven’t won a tournament as a nation since 1966.
Look through the names of English players we have playing here in the Premier League or abroad. How many of those players are truly world class? Probably Steven Gerrard, and that’s about it.
The sad reality is that the star studded top 4 are dominated by foreign players, and are all managed by foreign managers (Ferguson is Scottish). The players we have playing abroad? Pretty much every one of them from recent years has returned tail between their legs because they simply couldn’t cut it elsewhere (Beckham at Madrid aside – who was a brand purchase, not a football purchase).
So why do we rate English players so highly? Sure they speak the language so they are “more at home” in England, but most of Europe speak English after learning it at school and the weather, of say Scandinavia, is not really much different to the dreary cloudy skies of Manchester.
It’s understandable that a citizen of southern Spain is probably not going to be interested in the climate of our nation, but I’m sure people from France, Norway, Germany, Holland, or most of the northern parts of Europe would have no problem being here.
You have to question the logic when Darren Bent costs more to Tottenham than Cristiano Ronaldo did to Manchester United. Only a fool would say Bent was the better deal.
So what is it specifically? Our so called “graft”? Our spirit? Our love for the sport? Our penchant for small fast strikers who nip in and score like Michael Owen? In reality, many players we see playing for Premier League teams are English. However (for the most part) they are also in the bottom half of the table, and focussing more on finishing 16th than winning the league.
Successful English players are renowned for pace as a primary attribute. That’s great and makes the Premier League “the most exciting league in the world” (words attributed more to marketers and spin doctors than my own personal opinion). However if you slowed down the Premier League, do you really think you’d win against the solid defending of the Italians, the flair of the Spanish or Portuguese, or the resolute clinical nature of the Germans?
I would say we’d be trounced. Hell, it’s taken an Italian to re-educate our own national team how to play against people who are foreign without the benefit of having a Portuguese flair player crossing and scoring for fun.
So we buy English. We’ve bought some very good English players – Ashley Young is perceived as good value whether we keep or sell him, and James Milner is a relatively astute buy in today’s money. Stewart Downing will be an asset when he finally recuperates and Fabian Delph is yet to prove himself at this level, but the investment is a good one.
However three of those players have one thing in common. They have all broken our transfer record and are (relatively speaking in our terms) expensive players. Of those three, probably only Ashley Young would get into a top four squad, let alone the first team.
Three English players at the cost of over £35m. These are all first team players and probably astute buys but who else have we purchased who is English? Marlon Harewood. Zat Knight. Nigel Reo-Coker. Steve Sidwell. Around £20m worth of players, none of which would get in a top four starting XI. Sidwell may come good this season but the rest definitely wouldn’t get in a top four squad.
Twenty million pounds. That amount would have bought you Fernando Torres. Who would you rather have? We’ve had resolute defenders (the legendary Mellbergs and Laursens) and solid midfielders (like Barry) but we’ve lacked flair. No point having an engine if you have no spark to start the system going.
Taking a gamble on foreign talent is a risk Martin, but it’s a risk you have to take. We don’t mean the Petrovs (who admittedly matured well last season but is now a defensive midfielder who was bought as an attacking midfielder) or the Cuellars (hardly a star signing), we mean the Ronaldo, the Torres type players who bring something else to the table besides running around with bundles of energy.
There is no team above us Martin who have as many English players. We need some flair. If you are sensible with your money, then do the sensible thing – buy us a play maker. Please. Who isn’t English.