For those hardy souls who, like me, have spent the last few years following the England U-21s through the various trials and tribulations, it might seem easy to point the finger of blame towards the manager, Stuart Pearce for the abject failure to progress in the current U-21 tournament in Israel. However, we should be looking much deeper into a malaise which has dogged our national game for the past 20 years.
Looking for the silver bullet in football is as elusive as finding the Yeti, but it is becoming clear this year that there is a fundamental flaw in the way football is organised in England compared to say, Germany. Fans in England have, for the last 20 years, pointed to the success of the Premier League as the justification for some pretty shabby decisions by the governing body. Prime amongst those decisions was to allow an unfettered Premier League to dominate the football arena in a way detrimental to the national team.
The day Abramovich arrive at Stamford Bridge, the writing was on the wall for young English players, fans and the national team setup. By introducing unearned money in vast quantities into an organisation like Chelsea turned it from a sporting establishment into a corporate entity. The FA should have stepped in there and then and made certain stipulations about the quota of English players required at clubs, instead, they stood on the side-lines whilst Richard Scudamore basically dictated the terms under which the Premier League would operate. That was basically two fingers at the FA.
The FA had to decide whether football was a sport or a business; it cannot be both. One must take precedence over the other for operational reasons. They did nothing and football became big business. We now have billionaire owners all over Europe, but with regard to England, our national team setup is suffering more than most, because of the way the Premier League is set up. It is no coincidence that teams like Chelsea and Manchester City, both of whom are effectively insolvent, are the main culprits for stifling young English talent.
They may buy up the best players, but they are then stuck on the shelf or palmed off in vague loan deals, to waste their days at some Championship club in the hope of a chance of a recall to their parent club. Josh McEachran is a prime example of a promising young player left to rot by Chelsea. He is not alone; there are many more on Chelsea`s and City`s books who are simply forgotten by foreign managers who only know their own nationality players.
Clubs like Manchester United have a long history of promoting their youth team players to the first team and giving them a chance. They were one of the first clubs to have an academy which predominantly nurtured young English players.
We only need to look at the growth of German football from the humiliating defeat by England on their own patch 5-1 and their subsequent hapless World Cup debacle; to the powerhouse they are today, not just their national team, but their club setup as well. Germany`s Bundesliga provide both the finalists for this year`s Champions League final, ironically at Wembley. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to the obvious; our football blueprint is plain wrong. Lifelong fans will tell you, that they are effectively disenfranchised from their own clubs by ever increasing ticket prices, yet in Germany, they have full grounds every week at ticket prices a tenth of those in the Premiership.
We have been told by Scudamore and his acolytes, which their model is the pathway to long term success, but the facts would seem to offer an inconvenient, conflicting account. Our national teams are suffering their worst results ever and the progress of young English players is at its worst levels. The adage that says, with foreign owners, you get foreign managers who in turn bring in foreign players. We have one of the lowest numbers of indigenous players in our league in Europe, so can it be any surprise that our national teams are starved of any up-and-coming players?
M. Platini saw the coming maelstrom and introduced the Financial Fair Play rules, but already we have greedy agents trying to challenge them in the courts. The Premier League finally and grudgingly introduced its own rules, but they are very much a watered down version and have no teeth. We are seeing a sort of billionaire `arms race` where clubs are scrambling to find rich owners in Russia, China or the Arab countries.
If we really want to make football a sport and not just another corporation for the rich and powerful, we must adopt similar rules to the German league; nobody can own more than 49% of any club, wages are limited, clubs must have majority of fans as owners. This in turn will reduce ticket prices and create a level playing field where those clubs who operate within normal financial rules are successful.
Finally, let us get rid of the daft argument that it is unfair to clubs to be unable to have a rich owner who spends billions on their club. This is the usual delusional argument put forward. It ignores that football is a sport, and like all other sports, should encourage fair competition. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about Lance Armstrong and there is barely a day goes by without some sports personality bemoaning the use of drugs and other artificial methods to enhance their performances. They are regarded as cheats. So, if they are cheats, are the clubs using rich owner’s assets to buy players and pay massive wages that they would not otherwise have been able to afford, not cheats in the same way; using artificial means to enhance their performance?
If football is a business, then it is of no consequence, because all is fair in the world of big business; but if football is a sport, the answer is yes, they are financial cheats. Until EUFA and the FA man-up and tackle this head on, we will, see our national teams reduced to a sideshow. Stricter rules on finances, wages and owners and new rules about a quota system for English players are needed to redeem our national team and our English players. If not, we will nearly all of us be reduced to watching football on pay-tv stations like Sky and not being able to afford to take our kids and grandkids to watch a Premiership match.

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