Twice in the past week I’ve been with football friends in the pub when conversation has turned to the new squad rules. Remember, we each in our own head are the greatest footballer never to have signed professional contracts, and so we each like to think we know best – but some of the stuff I’ve heard is baffling, it’s just not grounded in any kind of reality.
I don’t know if it’s the media and it’s sense of hysteria at anything ‘new’, or fans who just don’t understand the rules (at least 10 minutes of every pub conversation in the last two months have been spent squabbling over what the rules actually are) but people seem to have come up with the oddest opinions.
The best one is the generic “this will change everything“, sometimes presented as the “finally the Sky 4 will have to consider their squad sizes and young players, everything has changed for them now”. Occasionally your mate Dave even trots out the “obviously this will make the gap between bottom and top smaller” line. They’re all wrong.
For a start, any club in European competition in the last 2 seasons has already been playing under those rules in Europe. Remember the hysteria when Benitez dropped Hypia from his Champions League squad? He was the first casualty of the new European rules.
The UEFA CL rules are presented here (go to page 26) for anyone who wants to read them (and the Europa League rules are virtually identical) but in summary:
- Maximum of 25 players over 21.
- 8 of these must be homegrown.
- 4 of the homegrown players must be club trained.
Notice that these rules are identical to the new premier league rules with one important difference – they’re stricter.
UEFA competition states that of the 8 spots reserved for homegrown players (any player who has played for 3 years between the ages of 15 and 21 in the local FA leagues is classed as homegrown), 4 must be club trained. That means they must have been at the specific club they will be fielded by for 3 years under the age of 21, rather than any club(s) in that FA’s jurisdiction.
A good example of this is Joe Cole – he is certainly homegrown having been playing under the Englih FA for 3 years before he was 21. But Liverpool cannot consider him ‘club trained’ because he did not spend 3 years before his 21st birthday with Liverpool.
This additional rule was not adopted by the FA for the Premier League.
United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Villa and Fulham all started last season in European Competition under these rules – their squads will already have been balanced in such a way as to compete. This season Spurs and Manchester City will compete in Europe and so they would already have been under these constraints going forward. These clubs will actually be under stricter constraints for European competition than they will in the league.
So what exactly does this rule change? The top 7 clubs in the Premier League are already under these rules via European competition, which leaves the remaining 13. Of those 13 clubs Everton and Fulham were under the rules last season so you can’t imagine either squad changing massively. Which leaves 11 clubs.
No disrepect to the bottom half of the table but can you imagine Stoke fielding a team of 11 Brazilians? Can you see them financing a squad of 40? Will Wigan ever be in a position to juggle a squad of 50?
The new rules don’t change a single thing.
Of course you could argue that up until now the clubs in Europe could have had a massive squad and just picked their very best 25 for Europe, but it’s a disingenuous argument – no club wants to, nor has the money to (City aside), juggle more than 25 regular first team players. Training, salaries, man management, rotation – it doesn’t work. You can trust clubs to regulate their players themselves.
When your man Dave starts hilariously saying “it’s illegal, it’s against European law” in the pub, point him to this page and explain to him that the European Commission for Sport have already declared the rules perfectly legal – in 2008 as they were being adopted by UEFA. Seriously, it’s beyond ridiculous that people in the pub think that UEFA or the FA wouldn’t consult their lawyers before making sensitive rule changes.
The other argument I’ve heard that’s made me choke on my coke is the classic – “well it will stop the biggest clubs holding onto the countries talent and never give them a chance”. I’ve maintained this position for years – if a player is good enough he will make it. Rooney, Ferdinand, Terry, Lampard, Gerrard, Cashley, Lennon, Bent – these are all English players who are thriving in the Premiership.
If a player is not good enough for the top Premier League teams he will drop down to his natural level, whether it’s breaking bones for Stoke or Birmingham or assaulting girls in nightclubs in the Championship (on that subject it would be pretty great if Shawcross or Taylor could ‘accidentally’ snap Marlon King, he’s a cretin).
I’ll meet you half way – I fully accept that the new rules will make clubs near the limit of the squad cap less likely to hold on to a player. But I’ll argue that’s not actually a good thing – go back to 2008 and the Hypia incident I already mentioned. Who made way to make room in the squad? The 36 year old experienced defender, not the youngsters on the fringe.
As far as I am aware the big clubs do not ‘stockpile’ talent, they do not sit on youngsters to stop them running away and they do not run training camps where if you fail to get all your headers on target you get sent to the shopping centre to spend the rest of your life filling soap dispensers in toilets. What happens is, if you don’t cut it, you get released. You go elsewhere.
This rule doesn’t change that – it may accelerate it, it may make clubs more impatient, eager to build the even more pefect asshole parade – but it won’t stop clubs holding on to the players they believe will do a job and selling/releasing the rest.
Look at the world of business – no one is demanding caps on office staff even though Barclay’s, Aviva and Vodafone are stockpiling the UK’s finest minds. If you’re really good at your job, you might end up working for one of them, if not you might end up working for Dave’s Deskmakers. That’s life.
So what is driving this rule adoption?
It’s the ridiculous notion (and my favourite pub line) that ‘johnny foreigner is ruining English football’ and that the influx of high quality footballers from overseas has ‘massively damaged the England football team’.
Firstly, the things that have damaged the England football team include (but are not limited to):
- Rio’s Drug Taking Fiasco©
- Waynes Granny Shagathon
- Stevie G Self Defending Another Mans Face
- John Terry ‘John Terrying’ Another Mans Partner
- Cashley Hole And His Disappearing Mobile Phone
- Carragher Deciding He Might ‘Do Neill’
- Paul Scholes Being Paul Scholes
Things that haven’t actually damaged the England football team:
- Foreign Players
I’m one of those people who thinks (and I appear to be in a minority) that the Premier League doesn’t owe the England football team a single thing. But here are three arguments why the influx of overseas players hasn’t damaged English football at all, and consequently why the new squad rules are misdirected in trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
- Bringing in exciting talent from overseas benefits the players already here. Sure – how many Arsenal players have you heard say that Dennis Bergkamp taught them how to turn, Vieira showed them what it was to want to win and Pires showed them vision. Walcott bangs on about Henry’s influence whenever he gets near a microphone (I think Wally was injured when they covered looking up and crossing in training). Think about the other great players – Van Nistelrooy, Cantona, Torres, Ronaldo and Zola – what have they taught aspiring young English players?
- England haven’t won a major competition since 1966. In 1991 (start of the Premier League as we know it) there were just 11 non-British players in the top flight of English football. Who was to blame over those 26 years? The Scottish and Welsh players? LOLOLOLOLOL.
- France won a World Cup, won a European championship and should have won another World Cup. And then this year they won just one group game and crashed out. Italy crashed out in the group stages. Have either country decided it must be the foreigners in their game? No, they’ve simply decided that their current crop of players are shit. Argentina got further that England, and they had Gutierrez at the back for fucks sake. A man who wowed the Championship with an own goal last season.
If England want to be the new Spain they need to pay attention to nurturing footballing talent from a young age. Teams like Arsenal, Manchester United, West Ham and even Chelsea have successful academies, as do many clubs from lower leagues.
But changing the rules of a league that is the most popular footballing league in the world with half-arsed gestures designed to tackle something that isn’t even a problem… no that isn’t going to make a piss pots worth of difference.