It is a little over 21 years since English football heralded the dawn of the Premier League era, which marked the single most significant alteration to the structure of the professional leagues.
Driven by extended television coverage and the substantial cash investment that followed from Sky, the Premier League has emerged as one of the most popular and widely watched football leagues in the world.
While many consider this to be a largely positive change, there are a growing number of dissenting voices. The influx of foreign players may have boosted the entertainment value of English football, for example, but it may have done so at the expense of the national team.
There is also the suggestion that modern football clubs have lost touch with their fans, as the gap between working-class spectators and multi-millionaire players widens with every passing seasons.
With this in mind, it is worth appraising the impact of the Premier League and how the influx of foreign players has changed the British game.
With its increased investment, the advent of the Premier League has certainly enabled member clubs to spend more in the pursuit of success. This also increased expectation however, meaning that over time managers have become more likely to invest in established foreign stars rather than develop home-grown youngsters.
So while just eleven players named in the starting line-ups for the first round of matches of the inaugural Premier League campaign in 1992 heralded from outside of the UK, more than 65% of all top flight players are now born overseas.
So while the Premier League is now described as a ‘product’ that is sold to countries across the globe, it is not necessary a showcase for the best and brightest of British talent. The
fortunes of the English football team since 1992 would certainly seem to support this, as they have not made the semi-final of a major tournament since 1996 and seem further away from international success than ever before.
Despite this, the 1990 World Cup team were a single penalty kick away from making the final, with a core of players who played regularly for their clubs both at home and overseas.
This is a relatively insular view, however, especially when you consider that overseas players have also had a positive impact on the British game. To begin with they have delivered considerable entertainment to fans nationwide, and many have become cult figures with the followers of individual clubs.
The best and most forward thinking clubs have also empowered established foreign players to help coach and educate young British players, with a view to improving their outlook and developing their on-field skills.
This is especially true in terms of nutrition and physical fitness, which has become a leading priority for British clubs since the dawn of the Premier League. Not only have overseas players and coaches helped to instil healthier eating and drinking habits at top-flight clubs, but they have also revolutionised the training techniques used nationwide.
That is why modern training grounds are well-populated, with everything from advanced exercise equipment to Fitness Mad yoga mats as clubs seek to create physical specimens with the stamina, strength and conditioning to survive the rigours of top-flight football.
Whether you think of players such as Luis Suarez or Eric Cantona, it is hard to deny that foreign performers have had a largely positive impact on the English Premier league. From cultivating a more committed training ethic to helping British players to re-evaluate their dietary habits, their influx is at least partially responsible for the sheer pace and athletic ability prevalent in the modern game.
While it is also fair to suggest that the national team has struggled since the inception of the Premier League, this has far more to do with the quality of grass-roots training and its emphasis on developing youngsters physically rather than technically.
Top British youngsters such as Jack Wilshere continue to rise to the top of the game, for example, so the message has to be that if young stars are developed correctly then foreign players can assume a central role in aiding their growth.
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