Hodgson hangs on diminishing English talent

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When 17-year-old Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling received a shock call-up to the senior England squad yesterday, a mixture of disbelief and excitement swept the nation, in response to the bold selection made by Roy Hodgson.

The notoriously pragmatic boss made it abundantly clear that the teenager would not be amongst his first-team thoughts when the Three Lions take on Ukraine in their second 2014 World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Tuesday evening, even if he is officially named on the bench alongside fellow late arrivals Adam Lallana, and Jake Livermore.

For a player that has made just a handful of appearances since breaking into Brendan Rodgers' new-look Anfield team, Sterling's arrival on the international scene marks a meteoric rise from relative obscurity outside of Merseyside, to a place in the media spotlight.

Undoubtedly a promising talent, the Jamaican-born starlet is destined for a bright future, and, according to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, it won't be long before Sterling is a regular fixture in the England set-up. But, switching the focus away from the youngster's development, the more alarming issue is the reason behind his, and the other relative novices', surprise inclusion.

The reality is the pool of English talent available to Hodgson is shrinking by the season. The influx of foreign imports in the Premier League means the football landscape in this country continues to change dramatically, and that is having a detrimental affect on the national team.

There is still a strong core of English footballers who are first choice players for their teams, but that figure, along with their influence, is on the slide. In the last round of Premier League fixtures, including Chelsea's Super Cup clash against Atletico Madrid, only 66 of the 209 players - 31.5 per cent - who started matches, were eligible to play for England.

In comparison, Spain's pool on the same weekend totalled 64.3 per cent, France had 62.7 per cent, Italy had 52.1 per cent, and Germany 45 per cent - all considerably higher than in the Premier League.

Speaking in yesterday's pre-match press conference, Hodgson said: "Would I prefer to have a reverse of that statistic, with 66 per cent of players being English? Of course I would.

"But that's not going to happen. The Premier League is a fantastic league, but it's a league that embraces all the top European players. We have to accept that.

"One of the other facts we can't deny is the top clubs know where the best talent is, and often go out and buy that top talent. That top [English] talent, at a young age, finds it difficult to break into the team because of the established European talent in front of them.

"There'll be occasions when I select people and you say they're only reserves at [Manchester] United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea. But I may think they're worthy of a place."

Hodgson's strategy has already seen the fast-tracking of players like Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley, and Chelsea full-back Ryan Bertrand, who have made less than 25 Premier League appearances for their respective clubs between them. But yesterday's announcement of the inclusion of Sterling, Lallana and Livermore - who have one senior international cap between them - only emphasises the lack of depth.

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