The papers have today linked Fulham with an £8m bid for Wigan’s James McCarthy – a bid considered little more than half his value, according to his current owners, and as such the offer was turned down. And this, right here, is at the root of the problems with British football right now.
There’s been quite a bit of comment recently about how Fulham barely played any English players, and in fact three teams last season didn’t feature a player eligible for the England U21s in the league at all (see if you can name ours). With regards to bringing through the youth players, we still have a couple of seasons until our recent progress finally bares fruit, but still our first team numbers were shocking, as only Sidwell can lay claim to being a first team regular and English, a position he found himself in only because the first choices (Diarra and Dembele) were absent for one reason or another. To his credit, he did well when he played, but with only Stockdale and Richardson otherwise intermittently threatening a first team place, it was a bad year for home grown talent in SW6.
So why is this, and why does it matter? Well, the why is clear. As I said before, Wigan are asking for £15m for McCarthy (Irish I know, but still British and belonging to a British club). This may be paper talk though, so let’s have a look at some other English or British players prices from confirmed transfers and compare them to the continent. Jordan Henderson cost Liverpool ~£20m, Steven Fletcher cost Sunderland £12m (from a relegated Wolves side), Jordan Rhodes cost Blackburn £8m, Andy Johnson cost us £10m, Downing, Young and Milner left Aston Villa for £75m all together, and who can forget the astronomical Torres & Carroll deals where English clubs were dealing with each other. When you consider that Ozil, Sahin and Khedira left Germany for Real for a combined £32m, or that Jesus Navas just cost City £17m, or that we brought in Stekelenberg for less than £5m, you can see the value for money is abroad, not in England. This doesn’t mean to say that foreign clubs have never overpaid, of course they have, and similarly you can find bargains closer to home, but there is without a doubt a general trend. And, since English players will be found in England, they are being priced out of the market. It is simple as that. The finance aspect goes to demonstrate the abstract nature of money; it is not a case of English clubs being able to afford to hold off until someone concedes to the Premier League premium, because in general our clubs are not that healthy, but because they are aware that other English clubs have such a huge turnover from TV they can demand it.
Whether it matters depends on where you are supporting Fulham from, I suppose. I’d assume that if you are US fan, you are not particularly concerned about seeing English players and more concerned with seeing US players, and players brought through the Academy, and it’s a simple case of identifying with a subset of the population and from that sympathising and having an affinity with that group of people. Because I am English, and also British, I have a natural affinity with fellow countrymen, and it is not something that makes me xenophobic, just human. So, from that point of view, I do like seeing English or British players play for my club, as I feel I can more strongly relate to them, in a sense. There is also a more specific observation that this is choking the English national team. The fact that we have such a low number of English players in their own league means that there is nowhere for them to go, and although it is an easy criticism (a fair one too) that they don’t go abroad enough, foreign teams won’t buy players if they don’t ever get the chance to demonstrate their skills. The pool of talent is receding, and receding quickly, and if people don’t recognise this then the national team will be crippled in the long term.
I am not saying I want a team full of Brits just because they are Brits. They have to be good enough, of course. But the fact remains that for a single McCarthy you can get a Dembele and a Fellaini, or seven Michus, or a Kompany and a Stekelenberg with £4m left over, and Fulham just can’t afford to buy a Brit just because they are British. It is a shame, but I can’t see that changing soon.