Premier League may lack Englishmen, do little for grassroots football and be expensive... but it showcases superbly the global game

Glenn Moore: The Weekend Dossier

Leicester City’s inclusion as one of the four teams whose manager and captain travelled to Willesden’s Capital City Academy for the Premier League’s season launch on Wednesday was presumably because the Foxes are Football League champions. It was just a fortunate coincidence that both representatives, Nigel Pearson and Wes Morgan, are English.

With Phil Jagielka also in attendance that meant three of the eight men wheeled out to sell the competition were English, which, at 37.5 per cent, is rather more than the proportion of Englishmen involved in the top flight of England’s national league.

Most weekends last season less than 30 per cent of players in Premier League starting line-ups were English and there is no reason to expect the teams named for the opening matches to be any different. Of the first 100 first-team squad players signed by top-flight clubs this summer, a mark reached earlier this week, 36 were English, and all but 11 of those were playing in the division last season. Set against those native newcomers are 46 new foreign imports including four of the five most expensive recruits (Luke Shaw being the exception).

This is hardly surprising, given that the seven English managers are outnumbered by eight foreign coaches, and the latter’s own appointments are perhaps to be expected since a dozen of the clubs are foreign-owned.

Does this matter? In many respects the league is a roaring success. Globally it was broadcast to 650 million homes in 175 countries last season and may even have cracked the American market with a doubling of live viewership to an aggregate 115 million (NBC was very visible in Willesden). Domestic TV audiences were up on all channels and while fans, with good reason, protested this week at ticket prices, 96 per cent of seats were sold last season with the average attendance, at 36,695, the highest in the top flight since 1950.

There has been some rubbish spouted this week harking back to “the good old days” but the reality is the game has never been so fast and skilful, watching it has never been as safe and comfortable, nor has it ever been as well covered – in print, radio, television and online. The greats of this generation, led by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, may be in Spain but while playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid is the dream for footballers the second option for most appears to be the Premier League. It is not just that English clubs pay well – though the money is always a factor, not least as players, like bankers, use it as a measurement of worth – they are also attracted by the atmosphere in the grounds, the high-tempo football and the fact that they are rarely pestered away from the game. Thus Bojan Krkic, once the next big thing at Barcelona, has joined Stoke, Cesc Fabregas returned to London and Jordi Gomez stayed in England, at Sunderland, rather than return to Spain.

The Premier League is, in many ways, the global football competition, featuring more nationalities and more widely watched than any other. It is football’s equivalent to cricket’s Indian Premier League, or the US-based National Basketball League and Major League Baseball, all of which are similarly multinational. The difference is two-thirds of the IPL are Indian cricketers, and Americans make up roughly three-quarters of NBA and MLB players. Here the figures are reversed.

Thus this golden age for English football is not quite so gilded for the England football team. Another World Cup failure was all the more lamentable for being predicted. The Premier League pointed out this week that 147 Englishmen started in last season’s competition. The unspoken subtext, that it should be possible to find a decent 23-man squad from that, was then put into words by the chief executive, Richard Scudamore, who said: “We took some very talented young players – and a mix of older players – to Brazil. We took a good crop of players. Those players ought to be able to compete on a world stage.”

One reason why they did not can perhaps be discerned from a closer examination of those summer transfers. Of the first 50 players signed by last season’s top 10 clubs seven are English. Of the first 50 recruited by the other 10 clubs 25 were English with 11 joining the three newly promoted clubs Leicester, Burnley and QPR. The top 10 signed 40 foreigners (the other three recruits being Welshman Ben Davies, Shane Long of Ireland, and Scotland’s Phil Bardsley). The bottom 10 signed 19 foreigners. Put simply, the best (richest) clubs generally prefer to look abroad, which means you have to be a very good English player to make it into our best teams. If you do Roy Hodgson is likely to pick you, but already the club places of Joe Hart, Luke Shaw and Glen Johnson are under threat from overseas arrivals.

The Premier League’s hope and, in some cases, belief, is that the academy system will eventually redress this imbalance. Much store is made of the fact that nine out of 10 academy players are British (figures are derived from passports, so an English percentage is not available). The annual £87m investment is akin to that made by Bundesliga clubs in their academies. Only time will tell if the results also match up. Luke Shaw in action against Inter Milan The Premier League must hope that academy's continue to produce players good enough for the division

In the meantime the other concern is that this international league, with a preponderance of foreign owners, many in it for the financial rewards as much as the glory, lacks the moral compass Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga’s chief executive, claims for his league. “We see the Bundesliga as an important part of society,” Seifert said this week. “We have a holistic approach based on the financial, the game and society. If we don’t have success in all three dimensions we don’t consider it a success at all.”

No league in Europe, however, spends as much money as the Premier League does on social programmes, such as the £10.5m investment in school sport announced this week. Some of the charitable work is undoubtedly done to defray animosity towards a competition long ago christened, by Brian Glanville in a trademark skewering, The Greed is Good League, but most of those who administer it are genuinely intentioned and the impact on those who benefit is significant. The league is also valued as a promotor of national interests worldwide with the British Council and many a trade delegation piggy-backing on its popularity.

This juggernaut is unleashed at 12.15pm today, and will delight, infuriate, but most of all engage millions for the next nine months. Flawed it may be, especially when it comes to supporting the game’s desperately beleaguered grassroots and failing national team, but anyone who thinks the old days were better either was not there or is guilty of selective amnesia.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker