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The foreign football player in Britain debate continues – Sir Trevor Brooking has joined in, suggesting that it’s a major concern for England’s chances at the big tournaments.

Then the BBC used some stats to back it up.

  • 76% of the starting XIs that played on the first weekend of the first Premier League season in 1992 were English, only 37% were English on the first weekend of this season
  • Only 10% (23 players) of the starting XIs in 1992 were from outside the UK, this season that number had increased to 56% (123)
  • Non-English players have scored 69% of Premier League goals so far this season – they have even scored two of the three own goals
  • Of the 118 goals scored so far, only nine have been scored by seven English strikers
  • According to the latest Deloitte figures for disclosed transfer fees, spending by Premier League clubs rose from £333m in 2006 to £531m in 2007
  • Half of that went to non-English clubs

  • Where do we start? Well, the first point is horrendously misleading. Starting XIs are not representative of clubs, given the squad system and rotation that most clubs use. If English players are in the squad, they will pick up ideas and techniques from their foreign teammates. Also, just the first weekend of the season? That’s not a data set you can really justify. Why not look at the whole season? In fact all of the data used is cherry-picked and misleading.

    “Half” (where’s the percentage) of transfer fees going abroad? Well, if you are going to buy foreign players, that’s where the money will go. Interestingly, that would suggest foreign players are being traded between English clubs, so once they are proven Premiership performers, they get sold on.

    But the link is just not proved. Here’s a scenario. In a league, domestic players count for less than 10%. In fact, it’s just the International team plus a few others. The rest of the league is superstars – the rest of the world’s best. What would this do for the domestic players? Make them worse? They are confronting the best that Brazil, Italy etc can throw at them every Saturday. Wouldn’t that make them better players?

    It just doesn’t follow that English players are suffering. In effect, it should make the next league down more competitive, and improve the game across the country. Talent is now borderless in sport, business and art. You don’t want to turn it away. These arguments are like the politician scoring cheap points by being anti-globalisation and trying to protect dead industry jobs. It’s time that a bit of proper scientific (dare I say it – economic) vigour was applied to the situation.