Hugh McIlvanney writes in today’s Sunday Times:
Year by year, almost day by day, it becomes more difficult to talk of Premier League clubs’ involvement in the Champions League as an English challenge. The term will be even less likely to trip off the tongue if David Dein’s association with a Russian steel magnate, Alisher Usmanov, ultimately puts Arsenal at the mercy of another foreign takeover. Of our big European contenders this season, Liverpool and Manchester United are owned by Americans and Chelsea are, of course, already Russian-ruled.
Now it seems that Arsenal may establish an east-west balance of power. None of the four has an English manager and only a small percentage of their players are home-bred. All this may not mean much to most people but it happens to sadden me.
It might sadden Hugh, but it’s hardly realistic. Once the major clubs listed on the stock exchange, they were always liable to any investor from any country taking them over. To suggest that they should remain in British hands with British managers is to misunderstand the point of the market. That’s the deal – you raise capital through selling shares, you can’t decide who buys them. Does Hugh mind that the Sunday Times is owned by an Australian? Why should having British players be so important?
The only argument I can see is that is depletes the pool of players for the England team, as there are fewer opportunities at the top domestic level. But this is not an argument that bears scrutiny. All is suggests is that English players don’t “travel well” and play for clubs abroad. Which is true, but not universal – two recent examples of Beckham and Heargreaves have played for foreign clubs while maintaining a England place.
Also, you want English players to play with the best from other countries, to familiarise themselves with techniques, to de-mistify, and to challenge. The influx of foreign players has coincided with a so-called golden generation – a crop of English players that are superb. They just don’t perform well for England.
To compare with other structures, lots of companies are staffed by people not “home-bred” (isn’t everyone bred at home?). Banks are full of people from all over the world. My department at work has employees from France, Australia, China and Switzerland. To suggest a football club should operate on a different basis is narrow-minded at best, jingoistic at worst. Many journalists and commentators try to remind us that football is all about the fans. If the fans are happy to consume the product, whether the players were raised in Africa, Europe or elsewhere, why should we care? Plus it extends the marketing of the Premiership abroad, generating more revenue for the game. Unless we don’t want fans from abroad – wouldn’t that be saddening…?