Wenger attacks Uefa's 'prize for mediocrity'

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger last night gave a further, impassioned defence of his use of foreigners in the Arsenal first team and admitted he would happily go further and pick 11 non-Europeans if it ensured the quality of his side.

Arsene Wenger last night gave a further, impassioned defence of his use of foreigners in the Arsenal first team and admitted he would happily go further and pick 11 non-Europeans if it ensured the quality of his side.

The Arsenal manager also rounded on the intention of Uefa, European football's governing body, to ensure clubs field a certain number of home-grown and home-born players before the end of this decade, claiming it encouraged mediocrity rather than good football.

Wenger chose an all-foreign 16-man squad for the Gunners' 5-1 victory over Crystal Palace on Monday, a first in English football, but the Frenchman has refused to accept any criticism for that decision, claiming that Arsenal supporters want to see quality above all else, including nationality.

For today's FA Cup fifth-round tie against Sheffield United at Highbury, Wenger will have just one Englishman, the reserve goalkeeper Stuart Taylor, in his squad.

He said: "I don't think Arsenal fans mind if they see all-foreign teams. They want to see quality. Our club is based on quality and values. If you see a fantastic player you don't mind where he is from.

"If the players are not English, it is not on purpose. If we had 11 good English players I would play them. We are in a job where it is down to quality and not where you are from. When you don't perform and are not good enough somebody else goes in front of you.

"[A footballer] is paid super money and still wants to be protected by his passport. Why? You have to accept that when you get to this level of quality you have to be better."

Wenger, who revealed that Arsenal spend £3m-£4m a year on their academy, admitted that the Englishmen who have come up through the club - bar Ashley Cole - have fallen short of his standards but said that the national team's prospects were not affected by this. He added that Uefa's attempts to enforce a quota of home-born and home-reared players would backfire.

"Not only do I spend £4m a year on the academy," he said, "but I am still accused of not producing anyone. You cannot say that. We have produced Julian Gray, Jermaine Pennant, Jay Bothroyd and David Bentley. They all play in the Premier League but are just a fraction behind the players we have here.

"I bought Francis Jeffers and I bought Richard Wright because at some stage I thought 'let's go for English players', but they didn't make it here.

"If [the reason for the outcry] is the scare of the national team not being strong enough, I must say they've never had as many stars in their team. From Rio Ferdinand to Wayne Rooney every player is worth £30m. You can't say that opening the borders diminishes the quality of the national team.

"Also I am completely against Uefa's rules, because they are a prize for mediocrity. It is not acceptable. When you live in an open world it can produce failure. Someone can be born in Brazil, be more hungry than I am and can get my job - but only if he is better.

"You want a top, top job, top, top money and still want to be protected by your passport? It is not possible. It is not honest, at least. Of course I am for all restrictions to be lifted even if that means playing a team of 11 Brazilians. I am for quality. For me, Uefa rules are about protecting their tournaments and themselves. They don't protect football. They don't care about that. I feel a responsibility for the English national team because if I can produce 10 English internationals I will be happier. I don't manage to do that because I'm not a magician."

When asked if he felt guilty about not picking Englishmen, he returned to his principles, saying: "I only feel guilty about football when people pay £50, go to watch a game and if I think 'these people have come for nothing' because the game you produced is rubbish.

"But if people pay £50 and go home and have seen real football why should I feel guilty? Because the players are not from the right country? Why?"

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