Is the Premier League to blame for the state of the English National Team?

Wayne Rooney and Roy Hodgson

With another embarrassing exit from the Three Lions in a national tournament, this time at the hands of Iceland, serious questions are being asked of the English Football mentality and structure of English Premier League as a whole.

Questions are being asked of the very structure of English Football in the wake of another disastrous embarrassment in a national competition. The country that made the game what it is, the country that holds the biggest and most watched league, England has had a rich history of successful players; David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Teddy Sheringham, Alan Shearer and the likes pull on the shirt, and ultimately fail to live up to expectation.

Of course, there is the World Cup win, but with way English Football has been, it’s nothing if not a distant memory. Of course, in isolation, exits from tournaments are rarely a cause for concern, but in England’s case, the cause for concern comes from both the manner in which they are playing and the people that they are playing. With all due respect to Iceland, England should never lose to them. So, what caused this lose, and more importantly, what is causing the continual stretch of mediocrity and embarrassment? It’s the state and perception of the English Premier League, the English players and coaches.

The English Premier League is the biggest league in the world. It has the biggest viewer-ship. The biggest sponsorship and the biggest amount of money behind it, it also has the some of the biggest names in the game. The skills displayed are second to none and that’s what makes it so attractive and universally loved, but the problem with it all lies in the fact that the biggest names they have, aren’t English. For years, especially in the last five to ten, the league has been dominated by foreign stars who have been brought in on either big money, or big reputations and have performed.

The likes of Sergio Aguero, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Diego Costa, David De Gea, Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard, Luis Suarez, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante have been the shining lights of English Premier League seasons past. In fact the last six PFA player of the year award winners have been foreigners; Gareth Bale, Robin Van Persie, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Eden Hazard and Riyad Mahrez respectively. Wayne Rooney was the last Englishman to win the award, back in the 2009-2010 season, prior to that there has only been three other Englishman to win the award since 2000, those being Teddy Sheringham, John Terry and Steven Gerrard.

Four Englishman in the last 16 years have won the player of the year award in their own league, now, of course this can be written off as nothing more than an indication that the English Premier League attracts the best players in the world and it is no surprise that players of other nationalities would win the award, but it’s the first sign of concern in the problem that is the English National Team. The gap between the best English players and the best foreign players has been growing steadily for the last sixteen years, and there is nothing that is being done about it.

The fact that there is being next to nothing done about this gap, or at the very least, nothing being done to encourage the closing of the gap in a public domain, is drawing a strong belief that there is a mentality of selection based on association. With many believing that the selection of the likes of Jack Wilshire, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling being based solely on the fact that they play for big clubs; Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City respectively. With injuries between them, a lack of playing time and a general lack of form compared to others in the vein of Michael Antonio, Mark Noble and Danny Drinkwater who missed out and who play for West Ham and Leicester City, which begs belief as both teams were the most exciting to watch in the recent season. A dangerous game to play, It has seen teams like Portugal struggle in recent years when employing similar mentalities.

Another factor in the overall problem is the lack of English coaches taking the reins at big clubs within their own league. Looking at the seven biggest teams in the English Premier League this coming season; Leicester, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham are all managed by foreigners; Claudio Ranieri, Pep Guardiola, Antiono Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Ronald Koeman and Maurico Pochetinno respectively. Two Italians, a German, a Portuguese, a Dutchman and an Argentinian control the biggest clubs in the biggest league in the world.

From last season’s ladder, you have to go down as far as ninth to find a team managed by an Englishman, in Stoke, managed by Mark Hughes, and further down to fourteenth for Tony Pulis managing West Brom. This is an accurate reflection on both the state of English Football as a whole and the state of English football coaching. For whatever reason, English coaches aren’t considered for managerial roles with the top clubs – that is a whole different debate in its own right, but the fact still remains, if the closest an English manager is getting to the championship in the English Premier League is ninth, it’s a red flag

This means that when selecting a manager for the role, there is a lack of suitable choices who have been exposed to the upper echelons of football on a domestic level, let alone the international stage. Paired with the fact that there has been a desire to stay with English coaches, the talent pool is severely restricted. Having tested foreign coaches before, with Fabio Capello managing from 2008-2012 and Sven Goran Eriksson managing from 2001-2006, they were serviceable charges, with 66.7% and 59.7% winning rates respectively to their name, they weren’t disgraceful, but they were far from setting the team on fire.

So, they went back to English born coaches, and ended up on appointing Roy Hodgson who had previously managed the likes of Liverpool without any great success and perennial mid-to-lower table team West Brom. He came with a degree of pedigree, but ultimately he came without any proven track-record, and it final came back to bite them. Now, they are back to square one, and they are back to having to assess the merits of a foreign coach once more.

The English Premier League is choc-full of talent, no one can and will dispute this, but the fact of the matter is, it is a huge part of the problem. In reality, the English Premier League is the national league of England, but it is not the English Premier League, it’s just a premier league, made up of stellar players is played in England, and that is what it damaging the national team. It’s easy to make the argument against this, but compare it to the German National Team and the current state of the German Bundesliga against the same markers and you’ll notice the difference.

Of the eighteen teams in the Bundesliga last season, eleven of the managers were German. Three of the last four German winners of the player of the year award still play in German, they being Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus and since 1986, there has only been 5 non-German players to win the German Player of the Year award, compared to the English Premier League, where there have been 19 non-British players to win the Player of The Year Award. So, not only are German coaches retained and held at a higher standard in their own league, of course, the player of the year point can be chalked up to any number of things, but it does show a big discrepancy and shift in mentality across the years.

Perhaps what is most alarming is that 38% of players who started on the opening weekend of the 2015-2016 EPL season were English, compared to the 50% figure for the same weekend in the Bundesliga – you can than stack this up against other leagues, with Spain, France and Italy recording figures of 58%, 56% and 43% respectively, and look how well their national teams have performed in recent years with their national teams; Italy have won a world cup, Spain have won two European Championships and a world cup and France have always been on the cusp of winning a major tournament. The retention and development of domestic players is key, and these leagues, compared to England are prepared to do so, and have been doing it for decades now.

It’s easy to say things need to change, and of course, the reality is that the problems of the National Team are so deeply rooted in a variety of areas, including the Premier League, but the guidelines are there, as seen with Spain, German and France and their improvements stemming from the changes in their own domestic leagues. There is no doubt that it will take a long time to change and see proper improvement but if meaningful steps aren’t taken now, then they never will and this cycle of mediocrity will continue.

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