Rebuilding England

Manager pressures harming Englishmen

October 8, 2013
By Ian Edwards

LMA PA PhotosThe LMA is concerned over a rise in manager sackings.

All week long, ESPN FC explores England's dwindling number of homegrown stars in the Premier League with a series of features that explain the problem, the current climate and the way forward.

Greg Dyke is committed to improving the disappointingly low numbers of young English players operating in the Premier League and the new Football Association chairman has certainly made enough positive noises since moving into his new post. It is hard not to warm to the crucial element of his manifesto for his time at the head of affairs at Wembley.

Part of his master plan, which will help England achieve his target of winning the World Cup in 2022, relies heavily on the FA commission he has set up to liaise with Premier League clubs and work together to formulate plans designed to develop the best young talent in the country. Whether Premier League clubs are willing to put aside their own agendas for the collective good of the national team, something which has not been evident since the league was first formulated over 20 years ago, is a different story.

If Dyke can produce an unlikely spirit of collective cooperation among the diversity of American, English, Italian and Middle East owners of Premier League clubs, who is going to tell the multi-national lineup of Premier League managers to open up their first team dressing rooms and give the wealth of new-found potential the stage on which to flourish. Has Dyke copied in all the Premier League bosses on his emails designed to give English football a new identity and reason for belief?

He can have all the laudable plans and be involved in as many conference calls and brainstorming sessions as possible, but he will not be selecting a single starting XI and that is where the complications start and spanners start being thrown into Dyke's sparkling new talent conveyor belt. Not surprisingly, the League Managers Association (LMA) has a few concerns of its own regarding its members and how the dwindling numbers of young English talent can be reversed.

It's understandable the LMA prefers to concentrate fully on the increasingly flimsy job security of its members and to try to educate overzealous owners and chairmen about trying to slow down the alarming casualty rates, but that has not stopped it recognising its members are pivotal to the argument over progressing young players and there is no simple answer.

Vice-Chairman Frank Clark told ESPN: "At the LMA we understand this situation and the impact it is having on young English players. It is a worry and we are concerned about it."

One strand of the argument is that managers operate in such a volatile and unpredictable work environment, with shorter and shorter life expectancy, that they are unwilling to take bold and inventive gambles on precocious 18-year-old English academy graduates, because the price for failure is too much of a risk, when relatively cheap, experienced international talent is available.

"That is part of the argument as we see it. There is a lot of merit in that opinion. We are not saying it is right, but there are so many facets to the debate. There is such a risk element involved in playing young English players and managers are so concerned about keeping their jobs and winning football matches that many do not feel they are in a position to experiment."

Being bold and innovative so often takes a backseat to caution because of the repercussions, but Clark also feels that English football is its own worst enemy at times, adding: "When we do get really good young players, at Championship level, clubs ask ridiculous prices. It is little wonder that clubs buy internationals at far lower prices from abroad. That is just simple market forces and managers have to get value for money.

"It would help if clubs stopped being so greedy when it came to selling young English players. They need to structure deals to make them far more reasonable and stop asking for silly money. That would enable more players to move up and get closer to the Premier League."

Value-for-money foreign imports are one factor, while Clark feels a "new breed of owner" has added a new dimension to the issue. Of the managers who left their Premier League jobs since the start of the 2012-13 season -- Roberto Mancini, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Brian McDermott, Nigel Adkins, Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis and Paolo Di Canio -- only Pulis worked under an English umbrella. All the other casualties were dismissed by clubs in foreign ownership.

"It is not as simple as just blaming foreign owners. There are foreign owners and more of them now, but there are new types of owners across the board. They invest a lot of money into clubs and they want instant success. Fans want it too. It is difficult for anyone to build anything," said Clark.

"The Premier League is the be all and end all and the rewards for staying in it are huge. That is the most important thing and clubs have their eye on that all the time. The new breed of owners and the money in the game means they and the fans are desperate for success as quickly as possible. It makes me laugh when I hear people talk about five-year plans these days."

Clark has heard the hackneyed old phrase about the cream rising to the top too many times. Put simply, if a young English player is good enough he will outshine his competition and be fast-tracked into the Premier League. It is a theory he refuses to subscribe to and the development of players between the ages of 18 and 21 have too many examples that disprove the adage.

"That phase of a career is a problem. If players do not get their chance during that period, what happens to them? They have to be given an opportunity. A lot of players' careers have stalled because they could not get in the first team at Premier League clubs. Some end up becoming unfulfilled talent and disillusioned with the game," he said.

"Eventually it becomes a problem for the England team manager and Roy Hodgson ends up having to pick players who are not even regulars for their Premier League team. Gary Cahill has not played in the last three games for Chelsea. Danny Welbeck plays in and out for Manchester United. That is not a criticism of the managers. They pick what teams they decide is best, but it is a fact."

Danny Welbeck appeals after failing to follow up Nemanja Vidic's header successfully
GettyImagesDanny Welbeck struggles to find himself as a first choice at Manchester United.

Glenn Hoddle has suggested the Premier League brings about a rule change to enforce a minimum number of English players to be included in matchday sides. That would limit the room for foreign players and place a greater emphasis on all clubs developing their own players, but Clark feels that is not possible, saying: "I don't agree with it and think it is unworkable. Most quota systems that are proposed are illegal and would be challenged in the courts."

Instead the LMA chief prefers to hope that the Premier League's new Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP) will be adhered to and given the chance to flourish, which will in turn give managers more English players to select from. However, he knows it will require patience and full support from all owners, or it is doomed to failure.

"Clubs have invested an awful lot of money in academies. So while managers have to win football matches, they also have to install a philosophy for the club through the academy and be given time to do that," said Clark.

"Chairmen and owners have to be willing to build, otherwise what is the point in spending all that money on academies if there is no real determination to see them succeed and produce home-grown talent. Newcastle spent a lot of money on their academy a few years back. The last time I saw them play they had nine Frenchman, a Dutchman and one English player.

"That is the dichotomy. Academies are long term projects, which will take over five years to bear fruit, but very few managers get that time. There has to be some kind of continuity, irrespective of results on a Saturday. Anyone can say they are going to plan long-term, but they have to be committed to it and mean it.

"I understand the desire and need to stay in the Premier League and the rewards that come with that and all clubs have the right to sack managers, but there has to be some middle ground and common sense. Managers that are constantly under pressure with every game to get a result are highly unlikely to select 18-year-old English lads.

"The academies can produce as many as possible, but there has to be a route for this talent to flow through. If it reaches a dead end the problem remains."

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