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Football: Clubs advised to nurture home talent

ENGLAND'S professional football clubs have been warned to maintain a balance between signing expensive foreign imports and developing home- grown talent as they look to strengthen their squads over the summer.

The Professional Footballers' Association believes long-term success can only be guaranteed by ensuring that a vigourous youth policy runs hand in hand with the recruitment of overseas stars, pointing to the experience of relegated Crystal Palace, who have just released Swede Tomas Brolin and Italian Patricio Billio after short-term contracts.

The PFA gives the examples of Liverpool and Manchester United, who are providing the cornerstone of the England national team's hopes for the future, as a demonstration of how important youth development can be.

Yet both Chelsea and Arsenal, conspicuous successes of the season, are still set to turn their attentions to the Italian and French leagues respectively this summer, while even United are now looking to the likes of the Dutch defender Jaap Stam and Lens' Cameroon international, Marc Vivien Foe. Nevertheless, the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, has admitted that English players need to remain the core element of any successful Premiership side.

Brendon Batson, deputy chief executive of the PFA, said: "There is no way, due to European law in the era of the Bosman ruling, that clubs can be stopped from signing players from Europe.

"But there does need to be a balance between overseas players and youth development at home. The Football Association's Charter for Quality, with the youth academies coming on stream, shows the way forward. Clubs like Manchester United, Crewe and Leicester have shown what can be achieved."

While restrictions cannot be placed on signing players from European Union countries, the Premier League is currently lobbying the Government to impose a quota of three non-EU players per club, with an agreement that these professionals can be youth or under-21 internationals as well as full internationals, and that their work permits are for the full term of their initial contracts.

Peter Taylor, the England Under-21 manager, is hoping his side can build on their 1-1 draw against France in the Toulon tournament when they face South Africa, who lost their opening match to Argentina, in Aubagne tonight. Emile Heskey's 11th minute strike looked to have given England an opening Group A success on Thursday night until Louis Saha equalised in the 79th minute.