Leading Article: A comical own goal

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Protectionism in any industry tends to be a bad idea. And in club football, a branch of the entertainment industry, it sounds rather ludicrous.

The MPs argue that foreign players are keeping out English talents and thereby limiting the selection pool for the national team. They lament the fact that only a third of the new players bought by Premier League clubs in advance of the new season that begins today are English. They may even have some support from Brussels. An EU white paper was published last month suggesting a system of quotas for home-grown players in squads. But those who put forward such ideas fail to appreciate that the days when a club's players were drawn from a local community have gone and are not going to return.

The fans accept that. The vast majority of supporters want to see the best players - or at least the best available - playing for their clubs, regardless of nationality. That is what has happened since the Premier League was established in 1992 and top-flight English football is vastly more entertaining as a result. Try to imagine the past decade and a half without the likes of Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola and Thierry Henry playing for English clubs.

In any case, where is the evidence that the English national team is suffering because of an influx of foreigners into club football? In last year's World Cup in Germany, England fielded what was widely acknowledged to be a golden generation of stars. And the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and John Terry all claim that, far from being hindered, they have benefited from playing alongside gifted foreign footballers. True, England failed to make an impact in Germany, once again crumbling in a tortuous penalty shoot-out. But it would surely be beyond perversity to blame the inability of English players to score penalties on foreigners.

There are many things wrong with English club football: the short-termism of boards, the profligacy of certain owners, the outrageously opaque transfer system, the off-field behaviour of many players. But a willingness to import talent from abroad is not one of them.