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Iain Duncan Smith raises concerns about impact of overseas players on English game

Ids_playing_football_2 Highlights of Iain Duncan Smith's speech at a Westminster Hall Debate he initiated on overseas footballers in British football.

This isn't about changing the law, but about initiating a debate:
"I asked for this debate not to demand that politicians and the Government get directly involved in running UK football, or any sport for that matter, but because, like many hon. Members, I take an interest in football. I care that the national games of England, Scotland and the other home countries are in good health, and when they are not, I want to ask key questions and initiate a debate."

Young British players with potential appear to be discarded too early:
"The first issue that I want to address is the effect of training on the development of new, young English players coming through to the top sides. The balance of overseas players in the premiership seems to be out of kilter with almost everybody else. On training, the premiership declares:  “Young players must fight for first team places against some of the best players in the world. Those who succeed can be confident that they have been tested against the best, and deserve their places on merit”.  I worry about such statements, because they sometimes miss the point. Making youngsters from possibly every nation in the world compete at that age begins to limit the number of places available for young English national players.  The different attitudes on training are interesting. Alfie Apps, the European scout for West Ham has said that, in England, our clubs have put money into training and demanded that players develop quickly. Many clubs discard players at a very early age if they do not think they are up to the job—18 is normally the limit. Many overseas coaches are concerned that, on the continent for the most part, they persist with the development of young players until they are 22. Ironically, that is often the age at which English clubs pick up overseas players, having discarded their own at an earlier age."

Overseas players are squeezing out UK talent at academies: "What is happening about the lack of premiership academies? It is staggering that more and more of them are taking overseas players at younger and younger ages, thus squeezing opportunities for young English players. Currently, 15 per cent. of youngsters attending academies are from overseas, and that number is increasing. Arsenal now has an academy in Africa, and Liverpool has forged links with MTK in Budapest. No less a person than Sir Trevor Brooking, for whom I have huge respect, has said that “in five years’ time we are going to have a far more serious problem: can our English youngsters even get into the academies at Premiership clubs?”"

Sir Alex Ferguson's way: "I am not a supporter of Manchester United—indeed, I gloried in Tottenham Hotspur’s great result last night, which will go down in the history books, I am sure—but one has to respect Alex Ferguson and Manchester United enormously, because the club’s player participation ratios are among the best in the premiership. Also, Alex Ferguson’s ability to bring on young players is worth considering. He criticised the rule that prevents English clubs from signing under-12s who do not live within an hour of the club’s academy and under-16s who live more than 90 minutes away, and he should have been listened to. Such matters could and should have been dealt with, but they have not been dealt with early enough."

English boys receive far less training: "On the pressure of training, Damian Comolli, the sporting director at Tottenham Hotspur, who knows something about this, said: “Over four years between the ages of 12 and 16 a French boy would receive 2,304 hours of training”, whereas in England, the amount would be 1,152 hours on average. The point that he is making is that the French seem to take training much more seriously, and theirs is much more skills-based. How much do we complain about watching a side that cannot keep the ball when it plays other international sides? That starts with training."

English leagues are increasingly dominated by foreign players: "Only 37 per cent. of first-team squad players in the premier league hail from England. We are told that this is a competition, so what is the percentage in the other leagues? In La Liga, 61 per cent. of players are Spanish; in Serie A, 63 per cent. are Italian; in the Bundesliga, more than 50 per cent. are German; and in the French league, 62 per cent. are French. Those leagues seem to be competing on a different set of criteria. They seem to think that it is possible to have a successful league and national involvement."

Some questions for those running the English game:
"The big questions are for those charged with running the game. Why have we not done an in-depth analysis of what is going peculiarly wrong with the game in England and even in some of the home countries, although, as I said earlier, some of that is being put right? Why is it that we simply do not study the facts and ask questions about training? Why have we not asked about the quality of training in England? Why have we allowed ourselves just to bumble along like Mr. Micawber, believing that something will turn up?"

The full debate can be read in Hansard.


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