In the early 90s, English football was overrun with talented, home-grown goal scorers - Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore, Julian Joachim, Dion Dublin, the list goes on.
Compare that to today, the amount of foreign players in the Premier League has multiplied greatly and the number of English scorers of the previous description has decreased dramatically. In my opinion, Darren Bent, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe are the only remnants of this kind of player we have at the highest level.
I’ll use a statistic which is, perhaps unfair, to reiterate my point. Multiple title winner, and Manchester United treble legend Andy Cole, had a meagre 15 caps for England. Jermain Defoe has 54. Not to say he doesn’t deserve them, he has been a very good player. But I think he’d have been behind five or six others going back 15-20 years.
You could perhaps have Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Rickie Lambert as alternatives, but their influence was much less than those mentioned at the start of the paragraph.
Why has this type of player died out for England?
Maybe it’s due to the new, popular style of football, which doesn’t always require a conventional striker. Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge are good young strikers, but they hardly fit the mould of Alan Shearer. Or perhaps it’s because clubs favour looking abroad for somebody who is proven to score goals, rather than risk playing a youngster. It sounds unfortunate, but when a manager’s tenure at a club can be ended by one result, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to take risks. Thierry Henry, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba, Luis Suarez.
All of these players have excelled at scoring goals in the modern Premier League after doing so abroad. Thus to a manager, every signing has this potential. So what does that mean for young English strikers? Will they ever get a chance to play Premier League or even international football?
Looking at the squads submitted from other nations for international competitions, they often include a few surprises, risks and players unknown on the world stage. England rarely do this. 90% of the time, the squad is made up of purely established players. In my opinion this is due to the pressure from the media on England to succeed. The ‘papers’ and the fans want to see Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney because apparently with them England have the best chance to succeed. Given the way some players have been treated after poor tournaments by the press and fans (David Beckham, Wayne Rooney) you can see why managers cave to this pressure. The World Cup 2010 is a prime example of this. Wayne Rooney had been playing with Carrick for a large portion of the season, and both enjoyed a fabulous campaign. Yet when it came to the games, the awkward partnership of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard was forced once again. Due to the fact they were considered England’s best midfielders. Admittedly, they had a decent tournament, both shining at times. But if the team focussed less on superstars and more on being a team, perhaps they’d get further in future. A lesson could be learned from Andy Cole’s few caps. Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer’s famed partnership lead to them being played together frequently, despite Andy Cole scoring more goals on a weekly basis than Teddy Sheringham.
Troy Deeney, Glenn Murray, Tom Pope and Charlie Austin are all good English strikers from outside of the Premier League. If we go back to the start of the Premier League era, they’d have been signed by top division clubs and would be playing at that level every week. Some would even have caps I’m sure. But nobody is willing to take a chance on these players and it’s not only their careers that could suffer, it’s English football too. I’m not saying they could walk into the England XI now, but giving these players a chance at the top level would be a step forward.
Maybe a rule, such as that imposed in Italy, whereby the purchasing and fielding of foreign players is restricted, would be of some benefit. Many, however, would disagree. I’ve nothing against foreign players paying in England, they have provided some of the best moments in the league’s history and like all fans I am grateful for their contributions. But it’s time England started to be selfish and attempted to end the wait for another international trophy. Giving young, English players the chance to play at the highest level every week can only aid this quest.
Maybe a minimum of 10 English players in a match day squad, or even five in a starting line-up would push these players towards the summit. The amount of players entering the league from abroad could also be controlled. A limit, three or four players from outside of England could be the maximum. Obviously any rules like these would have to be gradually introduced, and may result in a financial loss for the Premier League, but I feel the bigger picture is more important and should be the unified aim of every footballing force in England.
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