Even before Damir Skomina blew the full-time whistle, the jokes had begun. “Only England could manage to leave Europe twice in one week,” was the gag of choice on Monday night.
By now it’s tired. In many ways however, the frustration of Brexit has mirrored that of ‘Björkxit’. Ricky Gervais was perhaps the most succinct in his summary of the decision to leave the European Union:
“The rich will remain rich. The poor will remain poor. And we will still blame foreigners.”
“Too many foreign players” is an excuse that is rolled out biennially with every England failure at a major tournament. While Arsene Wenger appealed to Britons to vote remain given the potential effects a leave vote could have on the Premier League, one former player of his argued the opposite.
Former England, Arsenal and Tottenham defender Sol Campbell threw his weight behind the leave campaign. It was his belief that less foreign players in British leagues would afford more opportunities to homegrown players (via the Daily Mail):
“If we want more British stars, we need to take back control.”
It is Campbell’s belief that if we “take back control” (suitably vague), the national team will prosper. One does not need to delve too far into the annals of history to find a time when there were restrictions on foreign players.
Take for an example the first ever round of Premier League games in 1992. That weekend 73% of players who lined out were English. In the past few years this number has fallen to as little as 30%. That summer England had finished bottom of group 1 at Euro ’92. 0-0 with Denmark. 0-0 with France. And a 2-1 defeat to Sweden. Take another biennial jump to 1994 and England failed to even qualify for the World Cup in the United States.
England’s stagnation was already occurring prior to the Bosman ruling in 1995. Fifty years of perceived under achievement cannot be attributed to twenty years of foreign players. The belief that restrictions on foreign imports improves the quality of the workforce flies in the face of economic reasoning. Human capital is something that can overflow. Expertise from abroad only serves to improve the knowledge and education of those around it.
But, who is to blame? As a society we consistently search for the answer. Why did that happen? The productive outcome of such a process would be: how do we prevent this from happening again? The reality is far different.
Ex-players and current pundits sit in TV studios and attribute blame. The referee. The manager. This particular player. We can all sleep more soundly in the knowledge that it was beyond our control or that it is attributable to a momentary lapse in judgement. It is not the case.
What is the problem? In the wake of yet another tournament failure, an interesting statistic emerged. The number of UEFA A Licence qualified coaches in England is 1,178. The cost to take the course in England: £5,600 (around €6,750, although since Friday that number has been falling).
The number of UEFA A Licence coaches in Germany; 5,500. The cost of the course there is less than a tenth of what it is in England (€530). The winners of the last two European Championships, Spain, have 12,720 A Licence coaches. The cost is twice as much as it is in Germany but is still less than half of the English price.
Forget foreign players. Forget overpaid stars. Forget refereeing conspiracies and plucky underdogs. The real reason England fails every two years lies deeper. Without quality coaches there cannot be quality players. There is one A standard coach for every 45,000 English people.
Germany, who are the current world champions, have one A standard coach for every 14,658 people. Spain, who won the three tournaments prior to Germany’s World Cup success has one A standard coach for every 3,811 people. This statistic must send alarm bells ringing around St. George’s Park.
The failure to produce quality players is not a failure in immigration control. The failure to produce high quality players is a failure in producing high quality coaches. It is simply not a coincidence that English players are not sought by the big clubs around Europe.
Yet, if past experience is anything to go by, English journalists and pundits will be sitting in media centres in Russia in two years asking do English players get enough of a look in at English clubs. English players will still be substandard. Other countries will still win tournaments. And people will still blame foreigners.
Dáire O’Driscoll, Pundit Arena