The Homegrown rule. It’s something that often does the rounds in football chat and forums across the land. When people talk about how “England are never a force at international level” or “Young players just aren’t given a chance these days”, invariably the Homegrown rule is often called into question. And with seemingly good reason, especially in the Premier League.
Whilst it’s fantastic for all clubs concerned that the Premier League is such a huge financial cash cow, with clubs pocketing in excess of £130m per year just for competing in the Premier League, not to mention all the admittedly top-tier talent brought over from foreign shores, the question always comes back to whether England is doing enough to develop its own World Class talent. Whilst recently the England youth sides have had an incredible amount of success, such as winning the Under 20 World Cup, in times gone by the England teams suffered some damaging losses and have had to fight to get back their reputation of a good footballing nation.
Whilst some of this can be attributed to clubs not giving enough game time to younger players when they can buy a ready-made foreign replacement, in this writer’s opinion it can be mostly attributed to past failings by the Football Association, such as failing to provide adequate funding for grass-roots level football, and ultimately, the incredibly vague nature of the Premier League’s Homegrown Rule, which states:
“Each Premier League team can only register 25 players over the age of 21 for that season’s first-team matches. Of those 25 players, no more than 17 can be non-Home Grown Players. In other words, if you want the full complement of 25 over-21 players, you must have at least 8 Home Grown Players. Note that this rule ONLY applies to Premier League matches, not fixtures in other competitions.”
A bit vague right? When you delve a little deeper into it, the rules state that:
“A Home Grown Player, as defined by the Premier League, is a player who: (a) is 21 or older on January 1 of the year in which that season begins; and (b) spent three years between the ages of 16 and 21 with a team in the English football League system.”
So not only does the Homegrown Rule sound very vague in its initial description, but it actually does nothing to promote the growth and development of young British players. This in turn leads to sub standard international performances and intense media scrutiny for the “underperforming” players. The other issue with this rule is that there is no obligation to even PLAY your Homegrown players! As long as they form part of your 25 man squad, that’s all that matters. It’s no wonder then that so much pressure is put on any emerging young talent in England, as the perception will be that they must be a top quality talent, and sadly this pressure is often what causes players to not fulfil that potential.
One example of this is former Manchester City midfielder Michael Johnson. Hailed as something of a prodigy when he broke through to the City first team in 2006, he seemingly had the world at his feet. But just a few years later, and after several incidents, Manchester City paid up the remaining time on his £25k a week contract and Johnson retired from football, having stated that he had spent time in the Priory Clinic for mental health issues and now wanted to be left alone to live the rest of his life.
Whilst it was never specifically noted that the pressures of life as a rising star in the Premier League were to blame for his issues, it was almost certainly a factor. Had the pressures of his rising stock not been so great, perhaps he would still be playing now, but sadly this is not the case. And for me personally, there can be no doubt that the relaxed and vague nature of the Homegrown rule contributed to this. If there was a clearer route to regular first team football, as well as with the right support from health professionals, then more young players would get the opportunity to shine.
Whilst the Homegrown rule does apply to all of Europe’s major leagues, clubs in countries like Spain, Germany and Italy all spend a lot of time and money developing and cultivating their young talent, as well as providing them with all the necessary support that they require in order to prepare them for the pressures that come along with playing top flight football. Due to the intense nature of the Premier League, from the outside looking in, this doesn’t always seem to be the case.
Over in Scandinavia, the Swedish Allsvenskan league has possibly the best Homegrown rule. Each matchday squad in the league must have at least nine Swedish players, which means that at worst five players in each team will get game time if all three substitutes are used. This has led to Swedish players earning big moves to other teams and means that they can potentially develop into World Class players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic spent 3 years at Malmo before earning a move to Ajax, current Sweden Captain Andreas Granqvist plays for Helsingborgs, whilst players like Pontus Jansson, Victor Lindelof and Kristoffer Nordfeldt all ply their trade in the UK for Leeds, Manchester United and Swansea respectively. All of them started their careers in the Swedish Leagues, though Lindelof started lower down in Division 1 Norra, but still earned a big move to Benfica regardless.
This is the sort of system that would yield more effective results, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t happen here in England. German teams must name at least twelve German players in their squad of twenty-five, which is effectively half, and its easy to see the results this has had on their international successes, prior to this year at least. Whilst in Spain and Italy as previously mentioned, there appears to be more game time given to young players to aid their development.
At the 2017 Under 21 European Championships, Germany, Spain and Italy’s Under 21 teams all played more top-flight minutes for their clubs than England players did as the images below will show.
If the Premier League were to introduce a rule similar to the Swedish Allsvenskan, then young players could potentially gain more top-flight game time and thus develop at a much quicker pace than they currently do. The much discussed “6+5 rule” is another option, but this was abandoned in 2010.
Ultimately, there won’t be any changes to the rule anytime soon or possibly even ever. But it is the opinion of this writer that for the England team to prosper and become a successful and feared footballing nation again, our young players need to be given the opportunity to get more game time. Whether that is with a rule change in the Premier League, or from moving abroad, both the FA and the Premier League must act to safeguard the future of English footballers.
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