Players' union ready to fight for at least three 'home-grown' players in European teams' starting XIs

English youngsters are struggling to come through
  • @ianherbs

Good luck to the Professional Footballers' Association, who ventured into territory where plenty of others have gone before by calling on Uefa to stipulate that European teams should have at least three "home-grown" players in their starting XIs.

Evidence is everywhere that the PFA's concerns about the prospects for young British players are justified. The BBC revealed that English under-21s made up 2.28 per cent of the total minutes played in the 2012-13 season, with Manchester City, Chelsea, Swansea, Stoke and Wigan failing to field an English player under 21 all season.

The new figures fall behind Italy (2.38 per cent), Spain (3.40 per cent), Germany (6.22 per cent) and France (7.32 per cent). Some of Europe's other big five leagues have also seen a fall in the use of young players over the past eight years.

But European Union laws prevented previous attempts to introduce quota systems and in a recent interview Uefa's president, Michel Platini, was adamant that European legislation remained an impediment to change.

The PFA hopes a Europe-wide plan for the inclusion of three players educated by the club for three seasons between the ages of 16 and 21 – and regardless of nationality –would avoid a potential legal minefield. But the Premier League argues that an average of between three and four English players start matches currently, which does not include players from other UK and Irish nations who might be considered "home-grown". It also points to its own rule that is in place, meaning each top-flight squad of 25 players must not include more than 17 "non-home-grown" players.

There can be no doubting the wisdom of David Pleat, currently an Under-21 Premier League technical match observer, who says: "Some of the financial prizes for rising one place in the Premier League are so high now that clubs will jeopardise their youth in order to get those financial rewards."

Take Chelsea's midfielder Josh McEachran, who three years ago looked as if he would become the first English player since John Terry in 1998 to graduate from the club's academy and become a first-team regular. He has made just five appearances for Chelsea, spending the last season and a half on loan at Swansea and Middlesbrough.

It has been argued that the current regime has encouraged clubs to recruit even younger players from overseas so that they ultimately qualify as home-grown. But the Premier League argues that 96 per cent of eight to 18-year-olds registered at Premier League academies are British and 90 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds at the academies are British.

The quota system is highly unlikely to change. The struggle for British boys is a by-product of our global league. The level of coaching – and seriousness about the profession – must improve to allow the British to compete. Work is under way to ensure that. The problem is that it will take a decade to translate into a better England team.