“The new rules on squads are a disaster for this country. It’s ridiculous.
“The homegrown rule is all artificial. From 1966 to 1996 this country won absolutely nothing. England won nothing and they had not one foreign player. How has it changed?
"You cannot just close your eyes and say: ‘Let's kick the good players out’ and produce the same quality. I've been educating players since I was 25 and I know one rule. The first thing you do to develop a player is to put him with another good player.
"In my opinion if you are a great player, you want to play with great players. If you are a great musician, you want to play with an orchestra where you have the best musicians. If you offer the guy the chance to play in an orchestra with poor musicians, he will not be happy.
The words of ‘Man On!’, I hear you cry? Well, sadly not.
The insights of Arsène Wenger, a true innovator of English Football, are all too astute. There is a tendency to blame the ills of the English game, from simulation to predictably uninspiring international performances, on foreign imports and the cosmopolitan nature of the league. This is all too easy, and furthermore, it is startlingly inaccurate.
Wenger himself has oft been criticised for his reluctance to spend his transfer kitty on young English players. Sirs Trevor Brooking and Alex Ferguson have at times played the role of Wenger‘s judge and jury on this matter, and Alan Pardew, a man noticeably less credible than Wenger, remarkably claimed Arsenal were “losing the soul of British football”.
On this matter, “The Professor” feels no need to list the young English players he has gambled on, with varying levels of success*. Instead, the defence Arsène tends to offer is simple, English players offer poor value. Furthermore, it has been suggested that, in tandem with their inflated prices and pay slips, they bring inflated egos into the dressing room.
The latest instance of this, clear for all to see, is the welcome end to the longest-running transfer saga of the summer. Yesterday, James Milner, aged 24, moved from Aston Villa to Manchester City for a remarkable £26m. Mesut Özil, 21, moved but two days earlier for a fee believed to be around £12.4m. Of course, factors including contracts and the inevitable inflated prices paid by City play their part, but this is by no means an isolated example. Arsenal signed Thomas Vermaelen in the summer of 2009 for under £10m, at the time 23 years old and captain of his team, Ajax. Fast-forward 6 months, and Manchester United are shelling out a similar fee for Chris Smalling, admittedly four years younger than Vermaelen, but a player with 3 senior club appearances to his name.
Overpriced English players are a serious problem, and Milner and Smalling are merely the latest members of what is hardly an exclusive club. Joleon Lescott (£22m), Glen Johnson (£17.5m), David Bentley (£15m), Shaun Wright-Phillips (£21m) and Darren Bent (an astonishing, Thierry Henry-equalling, £16.5m) are but a few choice examples.
However, the story does not end there. What Wenger fails to observe in the aforementioned interview (perhaps as it is so obvious) is that the new squad rules are only raising the desirability of English players. The invisible hand of the market will rear its ugly fingers, and prices will inevitably rise. The ability of the likes of Manchester City to artificially inflate the prices of players such as Milner will also play its part, and the premium on young English talent will only accelerate. And, inevitably, always, Arsène Wenger will be proved right.
*Pennant, Bentley, Upson, Walcott, Wilshere, Simpson, Randall, Hoyte, Gibbs, Campbell, Jeffers, Wright, Cole, - the list goes on.