Don’t blame the foreigners

– Tim Long contributed with this report

On the opening day of the first Premier League season in 1992, just 11 players named in the starting line-ups were foreign. Remarkably, less than 20 years on, foreign imports now outnumber home grown players in the top flight.

But has this influx of fancy names stunted the progress of our national team over the past two decades?


Young British players, like Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, benefit from playing with renowned foreign stars like Andrei Arshavin. Photo: Jonathan Ross

The latest round of Champions League matches would suggest not. Rather it has enhanced it. Over the past ten days, Jack Wilshere and Chris Smalling have demonstrated their ability to mix with the biggest of foreign names on the most pressured of stages. While more places in starting line-ups are taken up by the Peter Odemwingies and Hugo Rodallegas of this world, top talent, whether named Macheda or Smith, will always rise to the top.

Wilshere was sensational last Wednesday against the best team in the world at just 19. Only his red jersey made him distinguishable from Xavi and Iniesta in the centre of the Emirates pitch.

Don’t be surprised to hear the words ‘world-class’ and ‘Jack Wilshere’ in the same sentence if things go right for Arsenal over the next few months. Playing and training every day with the likes of the Spaniard, Fabregas, the Dutchman, Van Persie and the Frenchman, Nasri, has surely only helped propel Jack down the road to world domination.

Chris Smalling, 21, was undoubtedly Manchester United’s man of the match in Marseille on Wednesday night. Smalling’s progress has excelled rapidly while playing alongside the Serbian, Nemanja Vidic. His inclusion in place of the injured Rio Ferdinand on a number of occasions this season has been almost unnoticeable. An identical transition in the national side may not be far off.

Both players look gifted beyond their years – accomplished on the ball, tactically aware, mentally strong, level-headed and willing to learn; willing to learn from the foreign stars that are all too often cited as the reason for England’s downfalls.

A lack of talent was certainly not to blame for the national side’s latest failure. Football fans around the world know that with the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Cole, England’s squad was among the best to enter the World Cup last summer – a list of top class players who have already managed to untangle themselves from the foreign fishing traps to breach the surface and breath freely in England’s top club sides.

The truth is English players are actually achieving more following the inception of the Premier League than they did before it. There have been five World Cups since the creation of the league and four European Championships. England reached the quarter-finals or further four times in that period. In the same amount of tournaments before the 1992/93 season, England reached that stage only twice.

English talent is heading in the right direction. We are becoming more in-line with our foreign counterparts in terms of playing style and mentality, and that will only help on the world stage.

Theo Walcott is another Englishman to pass the test and graduate to the Premier League’s class of elite multi-national stars. Walcott has a key role in the Wilshere-powered Gunners – a team that is still realistically chasing an unprecedented quadruple, and made up of players from 15 nationalities.

Consider the talents of Britain’s most expensive player, Andy Carroll, at 22. Our best goalkeeper since David Seaman in Joe Hart is 23. Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson is only 20, while Chelsea’s Josh McEachran, 17, has already made two starts in the Champions League. It is clear that England’s golden generation is still in our nation’s future.

Competition is healthy for a market – it allows new standards to be set and it breeds winners. Only the ones that thrive on it will be good enough to satisfy the high levels of expectancy we, as a country, place on our athletes.

Cream will always rise to the top, and if England wants the crème de la crème and not just evaporated milk, we should be thankful these foreign players have provided our youngsters with a challenge to rise too. Long may it continue.

4 Responses to Don’t blame the foreigners

  1. Dave Stanley says:

    i think it is fair to also comment that british football would be improved if the odd player left our shores very few have in recent years and when they do the rarely stay

  2. Luke says:

    Interesting article.

    However the rarity of quality English players, plus Chelsea distorting the market by shelling out £50mill for Torres is the only reason Carroll cost as much as he did.

    Furthermore, did players like Joe Cole, SWP, Adam Johnson, benfit from foreign competition? They were arguably replaced/prefered by average over-seas players.

    I also take issue with the Joe Hart praise. As well as wanting evidence to back up that assertion, I’ve recently seen him in the flesh vs Notts County in the first game and he was woeful! If that’s Englands future and long term No.1 I’m scared..

  3. Bradley King says:

    Have to agree here. It’s all very well English players playing with foreign ones but they do so in a very British league where they gain very little understanding of different tactical options. Every game is played at a high tempo with emphasis on speed, strength, power, bish, bash, bosh. Wilshere is the exception rather than the rule.

    People will undoubtedly disagree with me saying that the Premier League has changed but I don’t think it has. La Liga is a much more technical league, while Serie A, despite it’s decline, offers a very different tactical perspective.

    If we had half a dozen of our top players in other leagues around Europe they will gain a more rounded perspective of the game and adjust accordingly.

  4. Tim Long says:

    The cost of Andy Carroll is not the point…he will no doubt develop into a top centre-forward at Liverpool and will benefit from playing with players like Suarez and against people like Vidic and Kompany.

    There is no question that Joe Cole benefited from playing with top stars at Chelsea. In fact, being in such a squad pushed him to the brink of ‘world class’ at the 2006 World Cup, injuries brought him back down.

    SWP simply hasn’t been good enough to earn a place in a top side and perhaps should have made better career moves than he has. Any player can move to get games if they really want to.

    I still believe Adam Johnson will have benefited from his time at City – 29 appearances this year at the age of 23 playing with top players – whether he would benefit more from moving somewhere else is another question.

    Everybody has a bad game once in a while. Joe Hart has been one of the most solid keepers in the league this year at only 23. The void left since Seaman’s international retirement has been filled for the next 10+ years in my opinion.

    The likes of Aarron Lennon, Ashley Young, James Milner, Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry have all been good enough to play in big teams.

    There’s also players like Connor Wickham and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming through in the lower leagues who will undoubtedly be good enough to play with top foreign players and become better because of it.

    We are talking about separating good from great. Some will rise to the challenge, others won’t.