The English Premier League is by far the most popular football league across the globe.
It is followed by fans from all regions of the world, as it features the greatest players, as well as generally players from all corners of the Earth.
Decades in the past, the league was heavily dominated by British and Irish players. Foreign nationals were once a rarity in the top flight but now they are the very reason that the league’s product thrives. What are the reasons for the league no longer being dominated by players from the United Kingdom and Ireland? Is the disparity due to footballing ability, or is there a structural issue?
Man City have a predominantly foreign squad
Manchester City is a great example to use when looking at what factors deliver success in the league. They have won five out of the past six titles, with foreign nations often being their standout players. In the English Premier League winner oddsfor the 2023/24 season, they will likely be expected to claim their sixth crown in seven years. This would represent an unrivalled level of dominance in England.
City’s league-winning squad this season featured just three English starters and there was not an Irish player in sight. Before their takeover in 2008, their key players included Irish internationals Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland. However, once a club has significant transfer funds available, there are often greater markets to exploit than Britain and Ireland.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>🗣️Richard Dunne: “If you go through Man City's squad, there is nobody that Man United, Chelsea, or Liverpool couldn't afford. Man City have got a plan for how they recruit people, how they do it & what type of player they want for each position. Over a period of 2 years.
🗣️Richard Dunne: “If you go through Man City's squad, there is nobody that Man United, Chelsea, or Liverpool couldn't afford. Man City have got a plan for how they recruit people, how they do it & what type of player they want for each position. Over a period of 2 years, they've… pic.twitter.com/FrTwNxAhV0
— Football Talk (@FootballTalkHQ) May 19, 2023
The likes of Kevin de Bruyne now highlight the City squad, and some top English internationals play alongside them. It is tough to envision developing talents breaking through into the City squad. A huge structural issue with player development in English football is that there is rarely a clear pathway for stars to progress through the ranks.
This means that top English and Irish talents are rarely given the necessary opportunities in order to flourish at top clubs. They can often spend many years stagnating at the academy of a leading club, before eventually plummeting down the pyramid at the end of their contract.
The depth of worldwide talent available
In recent decades the level of scouting available at top clubs has reached an unprecedented level. Major English clubs have the ability to scout all areas of the world to find hidden talents. This comes at the expense of British and Irish talents. Clubs would rather sign players on cheap deals from areas like South America than pay a premium for British and Irish players. Again looking at Manchester City their recent transfer market dealings show that they have more often brought in Argentinian exports than they have promoted English and Irish talents from their development squads in recent times.
Perhaps there is simply too much competition in the UK and Ireland. Players are under immense pressure to stand out. While players from Argentina and Brazil amongst other nations, can often showcase their abilities at first-team level from a younger age.
Most goal involvements by English players in the Premier League this season:
◎ 30 – Harry Kane
◉ 24 – Ivan Toney
◎ 24 – Bukayo Saka
◎ 21 – Marcus Rashford
◎ 21 – Callum Wilson
A huge miss for club and country. 😫 pic.twitter.com/fIbrthHrxl
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 17, 2023
Ultimately, the culture of promoting from within has died out in the English game in recent history. The height of the competitiveness in the league means that teams do not have the patience for players to develop. Top British and Irish players will surely continue to be prevalent in the Premier League in the future, but they will likely always be rivalled by marketable foreign nationals. The greatest players ever to play in the league tend to have been imported from abroad.