Gary Neville fears for England as foreign players block path for home-grown players
National coach worried about number of foreign players in top flight after woeful summer
The former England international Gary Neville, and coach under Roy Hodgson, fears that the current generation of young English footballers are having their route to the top of the game blocked despite being capable of playing at the highest level.
Neville, 38, who played 85 times for his country in a 19-year career at Manchester United, has conceded that the old belief that "the cream rises to the top" – regardless of competition from foreign signings – now has to be re-examined. His comments come after a dismal summer in which England Under-21s, Under-20s and Under-19s managed one win between them in nine games in international competitions.
In an interview this week, Neville, now a Sky Sports pundit, said that he had been brought up to believe that elite British, home-grown players would be given a chance to develop in even the Premier League's top clubs, but in recent years he had been forced to reconsider.
On the question of whether a good home-grown player would be given a chance, he said: "You can't be definite on this. No one can be, but my gut feeling at this moment in time is we've maybe reached a tipping point where the pathways are now being blocked and it's not just the case of the cream will rise to the top, that old chestnut.
"I've always believed it. If you are good enough you will get the opportunities. We were always told that as kids. But I'm not quite sure anymore. I'm not quite sure if a player is good enough that they will actually have a chance of getting through because actually if you want instant success then they haven't got time for them to develop."
Neville said that English football had reached the point over a long process during which he had seen first hand how foreign players had improved the standard of the Premier League "immeasurably". However, he cited the growing impatience for success, the fact that 63 of the 92 league clubs changed their manager last season, as an indicator of the dramatic change in conditions for young players.
Neville said: "I always felt that the cream would rise to the top and if you are a British player you have got to fight your way through that system.
"But I feel as if we have reached a tipping point when I see academy staffs being ripped out of clubs. They have to change their identity every two years because if the manager goes, the new one brings in a whole new staff with him. It just can't be right."
He added: "I always look at the very best teams and they have always got a core of players who have grown up with that club.
"Bringing through home-grown players is a strength in many ways – firstly, to have a core of people who believe and understand the passion of the club; secondly, they have a loyalty which means they won't want to leave; and thirdly, you don't actually have to pay transfer fees. So it is a win-win-win to have players come through the system who are home-grown."
Neville acknowledged that addressing the issue of the development of English and British home-grown players is fraught with difficulty, legal or otherwise, especially over any suggestion of quotas. Nevertheless, it is a debate that English football will have to confront if it is to reverse the declining number of English players in the Premier League and the effect that has on the England team.
Neville said: "Obviously we are all English and every time you suggest that you want more English or British players you are accused of being xenophobic. Well, why? It is nice to see local people coming through and playing for the club they have grown up supporting. Doesn't everyone agree with that? Barcelona have seven or eight players who have come through their academy. It is a great story."
United built a multiple title-winning team in the early 1990s with the home-grown Neville, his brother Phil, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and David Beckham, and there was an extraordinary generation produced at West Ham in the same decade, although they were sold quickly. Could it happen again in English football?
Neville said: "In England, I think there are two or three clubs who are capable and set up for it. I do hope [in addition] the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham, who are putting emphasis on building these new, wonderful academies, produce players. They have made those initial investments and have established themselves as Premier League challengers, so now it would be good if they start to see players coming through.
"It can only be good for those clubs. Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, will generally try to bring through players if they are there. And this is not a criticism of the other clubs – the ones who haven't been doing that – because they are a different model. They've had to establish themselves in the top four first before looking for the long term.
"So I'm hopeful that in the next few years it can just come back a little bit towards development of home-grown players and we can start to push a few more home-grown players through the academy system. I'm hopeful of it. But I wouldn't put my house on it."
Sky Sports will show 43 live Premier League matches between August and December including all head-to-heads between last season's top four: skysports.com/football
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