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I’m fed up of the argument that English football is suffering due to all the foreign players. I’ve looked at some of the arguments on my other blog, but the figures used by the Sunday Times suggest that, post-Bosman, the England team is basically screwed. Or is it?

The figures they give are not explained fully – are they representative of squads, average teams or just taken from the first match of the season? (This first match is often quoted in articles on this subject. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the most convenient figure.)

And here they are. I have added the increase and percentages:

Foreign players 1994 2006 increase % incr
England 141 316 175 124.1%
Germany 163 222 59 36.2%
France 144 178 34 23.6%
Italy 71 170 99 139.4%
Spain 86 191 105 122.1%

What does this show? Spain has had a similar increase to England in terms of percentage, but the national team is still a) full of world-class players b) without a trophy since 1962. Italy has had an increase of 99 players, roughly 4 per club. And they just won the World Cup, so no worries there then. Germany have seen a milder increase, but still have the second highest number (222 – equivalent to 12 foreigners per club which could be the entire first team), and have won Euro 96 as well as being runners up in the 2002 World Cup. It just doesn’t add up.

But…. should English players try traveling abroad? Currently there are 10 English players playing in other leagues aside from Scotland. Now, let’s take Brazil. The only figures I could find for Brazil suggested over 850 players abroad. France according to this article in Time has over 100 – and that was in 2002. Italy I couldn’t find figures for, but it’s certainly a lot more than England. When I find the numbers, I’ll add them here.

But the point is the same – travel is linked with success. Overseas players are exposed to a different culture and style. And it’s clearly an indicator of talent that exists in the first place, talent that is nurtured in academies (France) or on the streets (Brazil).

Plus, my esteemed colleague Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, has a few thoughts on the subject. (The FT doesn’t do sport that often, so I’d pay attention). Oh, and here’s a another economist, Stephen King’s analysis (not the horror writer).