Who Needs Foreigners? The Premier League, That’s Who

Wenger and Bergkamp

Let’s be honest about it, and this is why the xenophobia really annoys me, the Premier League is what it is because of foreigners. And not just on the pitch, but off of it as well. Before foreigners began coming to play in England in the mid-to-late 90s and practically took over in the early to middle part of this decade, England could only look on Italy and Spain and, at times, Germany with envy.

By 2002-03, England had only ever had a side reach the semifinals three times, all Manchester United. Since the final stage of foreign “invasion,” England have “produced” 13 of the 24 semifinalists including multiple appearances by each of the big 4. Of course there was the great run by English clubs in the 70s and 80s which saw Liverpool win 4 times and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest twice, including a stretch of five years when only either side won the old European Cup. But that was not the Champions League.

In the modern game, England were not able to compete on the European stage until they opened the league up to foreigners. This season there are 337 foreign players from 66 different countries registered to play in the Premier League. That works out on average to about 17 per side accounting for almost 70% of the entire league. In 1992, there were 11.

The fact of the matter is that England does not produce enough footballers of a consistently high quality to sustain an entire league like Italy and to some extent Spain. Yes, I know Spain has a bunch of foreigners but, with less than 200 foreign players, the majority of players are home-grown. Something that hasn’t been true of the Premier League for years. Let’s look at the numbers (based on the 2006-07 season, after which the numbers will have risen):

Percentage of foreign players in all top 4 teams (and in the league overall):

  • Germany 48% (50%)
  • Spain 48% (38%)
  • Italy 48% (30%)
  • France 34% (34%)
  • ENGLAND 73% (59%)

That is a tremendous difference. England’s overall lack of quality compared to the other major countries is evident in the national team. They are currently struggling to find players for more than one position. England has no world-class striker or keeper. They have also hurt in very recent times for a wide player and a right-back. Spain, on the other hand, is spoiled for riches in regards to depth. The England team, while having a few superstars, is one injury crisis away from being mediocre. This is a direct result of English players not being good enough for their own league. That says something about the quality of the average English footballer. Most of them don’t go abroad to Spain or Italy because they don’t have the technical ability required for those leagues, not to mention an inflated value of self-worth.

Off the pitch, in the director’s box, board room, and dugouts, foreigners have transformed the Premier League into what it is. When was the last time a big 4 club had an English manager? I don’t even remember and can’t be bothered to look it up. The two greatest managers in the modern English game, who have done even more to change this league than the players, are Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, a Scot and a Frenchman. Even the teams closest to breaking into the top 4 last season do not have English managers as O’Neill is Irish and Moyes is Scottish.

But it’s not just about picking a side. Wenger almost single-handedly brought the Premier League into the future with his training and lifestyle management. At the time of Wenger’s transformation of Arsenal, United players were still smoking and eating and drinking like they were dockworkers, not professional athletes. To his credit, Fergie saw the writing on the wall far more quickly than any of the English managers and quickly snapped his team into good enough shape to win the treble in 1999 which included England’s first ever modern-day European champion. Let’s also not forget about the owners. Whether some of us like it or not, owners like Abramovich and the Arabs at City have changed the game as well, for better or worse, bringing more money into the English game and therefore better players and increasing parity.

Nevada's
Nevada Smith’s, NYC

And, finally, there are the fans. The Premier League has far more fans outside of England than they do inside and the same goes for the big clubs. There are far more Arsenal supporters in the USA, on the east coast even, than in London or even all of England. Also, it is only recently that the Premier League has received so much coverage here in the United States. Ten years ago, I used to have to drive almost two hours to New York City and pay $20 to watch Arsenal, if they were broadcast that week. Highlights were available irregularly on a semi-weekly basis. Newspapers were available two days after the fact for 8 times the price. My point is that it was hard to follow the club. Not only do some English supporters take what they have for granted, they also try to deny the title of “supporter” to those outside the UK. What is the difference between an Arsenal supporter from New York and one from Yorkshire?

When I go to watch Arsenal here in New York City, I am watching at a pub that is so packed with singing Gooners (see right) that people are waiting outside on line just for the chance to get in and watch the match. Also, I am not even close to being the only American Arsenal blog. There are a number of them, including 7am kickoff, which are well-written, thoughtful, insightful, and, most of all, their writers are as dedicated to the club as anyone. So the condescending attitude which some English supporters take towards foreign fans is ridiculous, especially towards us American supporters.

Through the years I have talked football, online as a moderator at The Gooner Forum or not, with 100s and 100s of people from six continents and I have found Americans who are very knowledgeable about Arsenal and football in general, while at the same time I have found English fans who had no clue what they were talking about. And far more shirt sales and merchandise money are made by the clubs outside of the little island than inside. Not to mention the many American Arsenal supporters who gladly spend a few thousand dollars just to get to London and watch one match. So, to dismiss foreign fans because their nationality somehow makes it impossible for them to understand the game or love the club, is just another way the xenophobia manifests itself.

All in all, the Premier League has been forged and continues to be absolutely propped up both on the pitch and off by foreigners. English supporters should be grateful, because if all the foreign players and managers picked up their things and left, if all the foreign owners who have spent the money to bring great players to England sold the clubs or even stopped spending money, and if all the foreign supporters stopped watching the Premier League on television and stopped buying the shirts, what would be left? At best, a slightly better version of the Championship.

An Even Worse Case of Simulation by English Players

john-terry-slip-404_673160c

In the days of an international break leading up to the match, we are always treated to meaningless babble from England players deemed important enough to splash all over the back pages of the newspapers. Of course, it’s all usually innocuous, but this week is different. Is it me, or does it seem like the English FA has hired a PR man that has told the players to use this week’s interviews to campaign for their “honesty” on the pitch. It’s funny enough on the surface due its utter ridiculousness, but the underlying current is not nearly as funny.

First, we had Wayne Rooney on Thursday saying:

I have never intentionally tried to dive, there have been times when I have tried to stay on my feet and tried to get the shot off rather than going down. I have never intentionally dived.I think everyone who watches me play knows I am an honest player who tries to be as honest as they can.

Yes, but there were also times when he has much too easily gone to ground and tried to win the penalty. Last Saturday was a case in point, while the dive against us in 2004 is as clear an example as is possible. It is clear on the video from Saturday that he was already falling before there was any contact with Almunia. How does Rooney see the incident, you ask…

The ball got played through I got on the end of it, got contact with the ball and then I got contact which knocked me off balance and the referee saw it as a penalty.

That is an absolute lie, just like him saying he “tries to be as honest” as possible. He booted the ball out of play and began going to ground before there was any contact with Almunia. He certainly wasn’t trying to be honest on Saturday. Rooney should be sending Almunia expensive gifts and romantic thank-you notes because if Almunia had been able to get his hands out of the way, it would’ve looked exactly the same as Eduardo’s incident.

But, of course, Rooney doesn’t have to do that because he is protected by the British media, in print and on radio by idiots like Alan Green who shushed and yelled over any caller to 606 Saturday evening that tried to question the penalty. Even if Almunia had gotten his hands out of the way, like Boruc, the press would’ve found a way to spin it in Rooney’s favor, especially right before a crucial international break when a scandal surrounding England’s key player could hurt the national side.

Then, yesterday, we got the following gems from John Terry:

Diving is something the England lads don’t do. Sometimes we’re too honest. Even in the Premier League, we see the English lads get a bit of contact and try to stay on their feet and score from the chance… from our mentality and the way we’ve grown up it’s not something we’ve ever been into.

He can’t be serious. Anyone who actually watches the Premier League sees English players go down just as much as foreigners. Ah, but there’s a reason for that according to Kenny Dalglish, it is because dirty, greasy, dishonest foreigners have taught good, honest, English boys to dive. But I wonder, if the “English lads” really were “too honest,” wouldn’t they have resisted “learning” diving from these foreigners. Of course the next question any good reporter would ask would be, “What about Drogba?” Luckily there was at least one decent journo there and Terry said:

He’s a big strong lad and at times he can get a knock and go down like anybody. Sometimes he stays down a little bit too long but sometimes slight knocks can keep players down.

Nice try, John. But, with Drogba, it’s not about how long he stays on the ground but about how he got there in the first place. However, it apparently is okay because:

He’s a player who wants to win and does anything for that.

Well, that explains it. As a defender, Terry has no reason to dive, but YouTube is full of videos of “English lads” who are “too honest diving better than any foreigner. In fact, notice how Steven Gerrard has tried to stay out of the mix this week about the diving row. That is because he is England’s greatest offender, having even tried to blatantly deceive the referee in a Champions League Final against Milan.

But there’s no reason for him to be shy, the media will protect him as well. He should know that. I mean, he punched a guy in a nightclub with no provocation whatsoever and walks out of the court not only a free man but smelling like roses, according to the English press.

Rooney and Terry show themselves to be liars in these quotes; they are taking advantage of and, in Terry’s case, promoting this type of xenophobic attitude which has done so much harm in English society, in general. The most troubling aspect is that the media is not only letting them get away with but that they are actively perpetuating it by not calling a spade a spade and challenging this ridiculous idea of England being a dive-free zone until the Premier League filled up with dirty, cheating foreigners.

This campaign in the past week has proved to be an even worse case of simulation than any that occurred on the pitch recently, and that is England players simulating honesty.

Note: I usually have a few more pictures with the articles but I couldn’t bring myself to put Rooney’s fat, bald face on the page. Sorry.

Not a Boy, Not Yet a Man

Here I am!

Theo Walcott: "Here I am!"

Theo Walcott announced himself on the world stage with hat-trick Wednesday night in Zagreb, Croatia.  In what turned out to be a very convincing victory for England, the young Arsenal winger stole the show.  Theo has been making steady progress over the last few years and its been hard for Arsenal supporters to keep his age in mind.  After his heavily publicized transfer from Southampton in 2006, the pressure seemed to grow.  It was never fair to expect a 16 year old kid to justify that kind of price tag.  But the purchase of Walcott wasn’t about instant results.  It was a classic Wenger move in that it looked to the future of the club.  Walcott’s potential was big back then but it is unlimited now.

After a solid season last year in which he only started 20 games, Theo was able to notch 7 goals and 5 assists.  These included his two multi-goal performances against Slavia in the Champions League and the infamous Birmingham match.  His assist at Liverpool in the dying minutes after a glorious run from his own third showed that he is not only capable of making great plays but that he is capable of making them when it counts.  His development has been brought along slowly by Arsene Wenger who has carefully sought to shield Theo from the supporters and media’s over-expectations.  He only started in consecutive league matches once all year until he played the last four when the title race was effectively over.

There was a sense over the summer that this would be Theo’s breakthrough season.  It seemed a no-brainer that he would overtake the out-of-position Emmanuel Eboue who despite starting over 30 matches in possibly Europe’s most dynamic midfield was failed to score and tallied (if you can call it that) one assist in the league all season.  Theo had started in Arsenal’s first four competitive matches including both legs of the FC Twente tie before coming on as a substitute in Arsenal’s 3-0 drubbing of Newcastle.  He has yet to register a league goal this campaign but following this very successful international break his confidence should be soaring.  And rightly so.  The kid can play on any pitch with anyone.

There are debates among Arsenal supporters about whether or not Theo is ready to assume a regular place in the starting XI.  But at this point in his development, he can only continue to grow and mature as a footballer by playing regular league matches.  We’ve seen him score in the Carling Cup Final, against Tottenham last year in the same competition, the 2 goals at Birmingham which would have kept us in the race if not for the late penalty, and, of course, the miraculous run at Liverpool in the Champions League. This is a player who rises to the big occasions; who is afraid of no one.  These kinds of qualities are very rare even among ultra-talented footballers.  Capello gave Theo his chance in a very important away match against a team who had not lost at home under their current manager… and he delivered.  It is now time for him to do it for the Arsenal.