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Foreign Influence on English Football


The initial research into this aspect of English Football concentrated on the quantitive and qualitive aspects of the research in question. Here we delve into the actual evidence as to the possible reasons behind the apparent failure of England to complete on an International level, given the deluge of foreign players into the English game.

A lot of debate has been going on about this subject in England and every supporter of England is upset. After all, when can they avoid talking about 1966, when England won the world cup for the first and only time? The apparent failure is all the more remarkable given the huge playing talent in England, and, arguably the most prestigious football league in the world, the Premiership.

Foreign Influence on English Football

Aims and Objective

As noted earlier, English football ruled the world in the early 20th century. Since then England have indeed been overtaken, on some occasions by nations who would never have expected to be in a similar position only a few years ago. International teams such as Croatia, France and others have all gained higher rankings than England on the world stage. The objective of this exercise is to find out if the influx of foreign players has played a hand in this, and the reasons why managers of English football clubs choose to import foreign players, at the top level, rather than use the home-grown talent available.


The Global Challenge to English Football

The article written by Patrick McGovern (Patrick McGovern, 2002), challenges the basis behind the import of foreign players into English football. He says the world market is a competitive mechanism that changes the nature of economic competition.  Having investigated hiring practices for the English football league during 1946 to 1995, one aspect of the conclusions was that globalisation might be a reasonable thing to expect.

This points out that it is not just about players who impact globally.  It also deals with economic social and political influences which may have regional or indeed British roots. The article also points out, however, that continuity exists in the types of foreign players chosen to play in the English league.  That can be the style of football in terms of climate, history, language and. That would suit countries like Scotland, Ireland, Northern Europe, Australia, etc.  Nonetheless, the article fails to point out that quite a few international players have come from South America, including Argentina or Brazil.  Their influence cannot be discounted.  Hence, the choice of fine players is due in part to cultural choices.

Opinions in the Media, Management and English Football Fans

When evaluating the factors in the decision to use foreign players in the English game, we note from the research of Patrick Mcgovern: “Czarnitzki and the German study of Stadtmann entitled Uncertainty of outcome versus reputation : empirical evidence for the First German Football Division or Zentrum fur Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung is a very recent and important paper. Though the focal point is the German football league it draws a parallel with the English league, thus providing huge data on the current subject. On the other hand Oliver Gürtler, A rationale for the coexistence of central and de central markets in team sports is based on the basic infrastructure of the game and presents a thorough history of the game from the administrative perspective.”

Given these facts, we can’t assume that foreign influence is the only factor to consider as the German football league can draw parallel influences. However, it is well know that the Germans have been considerably more successful than their English counterparts throughout the years. This is the source of some discomfort for the discerning England fan, who considers the Germans (and Argentina, since Deigo Maraddona cheated with his “hand of god” goal in the 1996 World Cup) to be the team they usually like to beat most in the International arena. Ironically, there have been several Germans and Argentinean players playing for English clubs in the premier league, in addition to players from the rest of Europe.

It appears that there are influences as to the types of players chosen to play for English clubs, and this is not just down to playing talent. Although this is obviously the major factor, since the pay rates of world class players is not to be underestimated.

The Soccernet website (Soccernet, 2007), describes how the Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger backs the case of English players, but to place a quota on foreign players would be bad for the game. Arsene by the way is an ardent supporter of the use of foreign players in the English League. This is not surprising, given that at least half of the Arsenal side are not English by birth. He quotes the case of two English players, Steve Sidwell and James Harper, who were sidelined by their foreign counterparts, Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit.

As a result of continually being left out of the Arsenal team, Steve Sidwell and James Harper both ended up playing for Reading, and actually saved Reading from relegation. This is testament to talent being sidelined by foreign influence. They may have succeeded with Reading, but in fact Patrick Vieria and Emmanuel Petit are world class, so there was no contest in the Arsenal situation. Arsene described Steve Sidwell and James Harper as “high-quality cast-offs, who still have a future at the highest level.”

The theory behind Arsene Wenger’s comments is that to have only English players in a top-class side would be a detriment to the smaller clubs.  What this means in practice is that if the larger clubs used foreign players in order to have the best possible side available, that any left-over English players would benefit by moving elsewhere, and to a smaller club. He claims that this will not only benefit the players concerned but the club they were joining. He also points out: “At Reading the goal isn’t necessarily the same as at Arsenal,” Wenger said.

This can cause much debate, depending on your point of view. Some questions pondered by this viewpoint, which we will endeavour to answer in this assessment could be:

  • Does the influence of world class foreign players imply that existing English players can find more opportunities within the English game, albeit with lesser clubs?
  • Does this imply that English players are just not good enough to fulfil roles at the highest level?
  • Are there equal opportunities within the game, as a result of foreign influence?
  • Is the use of foreign player’s bases on sound business decisions?
  • Does this have a bearing on the way the game is managed in England and the training of English youngsters?
  • Can English players learn from their foreign counterparts?
  • Should there be a limit on the number of foreign players, so that English players can develop their own game without foreign influence?

As mentioned in the Helium website article, (Helium:Andrew Glover, 2008),  “Monday February 14th, 2005 was proclaimed as a historic day when Arsenal fielding an entire 16 man squad to take on Crystal Palace in a Premier League match. They went on to thrash their London neighbours 5-1, thanks to goals from a Dutchman, a Spaniard, and 2 Frenchmen.” The reference to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is deliberate. It is well known that he is a firm supporter of foreign players in the English game. However, not all managers agree. Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, thinks there should be a cap on the number of foreign players.

We can only assume that the advantage of doing this would be to give more English players an opportunity. However, if we look at Arsenals record, and the foreign influence, we find they have won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the domestic double in 2002. Arsenal is also often quoted by experts in the game that they play the most attractive football in the game. Having said that, does this justify the case for having more foreign players, or is this the view of only a few managers of elite clubs like Arsenal?

This article also demonstrates that foreign influence does have an effect to some degree, it would seem.  Before Wenger took the reigns in 1996, Arsenal had just finished 5th in the Premier League, with their core English players Ian Wright, David Platt, Tony Adams and David Seaman, performing well, but not perhaps at world class level.

Wenger’s first season in charge saw Arsenal finish joint second. In doing so he used foreign players in the process. These were Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp. This mix of strength, pace, flair and goals made Arsenal Premier League Championship the following season. This was Arsenal’s first silverware since the FA Cup a whole five years previously.

Based on this evidence, you would have to say that Arsenal’s performance is not negatively affected by the lack of English Players. However, as English players were not used extensively does this prove the point that English influence is being sidelined?

However, just because it is the English Premier League, does not mean that English players have the divine right to play in it. It was priority to Arsene Wenger, as the manager, to assess what players are going to bring the greatest amount of success to the club and its paying fans, rather than play less-talented home grown players, out of curiosity, sympathy or pressure. This may seem harsh, but is an important factor. Football, like any other game is a paying business, but in England it is more than that, it is a culture and a way of life.

Many people claim that this is hampering the performance of the England national team. The main argument being that England would have better players, if more home-grown talent was playing in the ‘best league in the world’. The English Premiership now stands on a par with the Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga. This is due in no small measure to the fact that top-flight teams, in England and other countries have brought exceptionally skilled players from around the globe. Put simply, less good foreign players, implies a less competitive league.

It has been said that England’s recent ‘problems’ at international level are more down to managerial incompetence, ludicrously high expectations, and the lack of a decent youth training scheme.  It is not to say, however that Arsenals lack of English players is a factor in the failings of the English national team. At the end of the day, Arsenal does what they must do to remain competitive, for the sport, their fans and business interests.

An article written by Sam Adrian is on another web article named “Oh No! English football is going to kill the Big Bad Foreigner. “(Sam Adriance, 2007) holds a more nationalistic view. He claims that England’s failures are not down to foreign influence. In fact, the FIFA president Sepp Blatter wants to challenge is the EU laws that prohibit quotas on foreign players. In his view the EU laws are not strict enough.  He mentions the fact that foreign influence detracts from the identity of football clubs.  To this end he may well have a point, especially when a London club like Arsenal, has almost a full team of foreign players. He mentions the fact that the EU laws are designed for workers and not for sports professionals. However, it could be argued that because football players get paid that they are in fact, workers, and as such, are liable to the same laws as everyone else.

Sam Adrian goes on to argue the point that England doesn’t develop enough good, young players.  He agrees with Arsene Wenger’s point of view that foreign players are good for the game in England. His view is that the national team will not suffer as a result of having more foreign players in league clubs. He says that if you put a quota on the number of foreign players you are, in fact, putting a quota on quality.

There are other implications connected to the use of foreign players in English football game. For instance, in the workplace in England, they have what is known as Equal Opportunities policy. This means that no discrimination can be made, as regards to color, race, religion or age. The same rules, although not written in stone, apply equally in football. It would be wrong to say Chelsea had too many black players and therefore it’s affecting the development of the young white players. In order to counter this was a thrill to introduce such as you can only have two black players in the team.  This is a ridiculous notion! It’s like saying to a rich man, “You can only have one Rolls-Royce and any of other cars you own has got to be a mini, that’s the law.”  In fact, by introducing such rules, you are.  It could be implied that this would be a tactic to get rid of the foreign influence.

This goes against English beliefs and culture. England is a mix of cultures, races and religions. Although most people who live in the country are predominantly white and English, it would not be seen as politically correct to ban or even place a maximum number on foreign players allowed to play in the English football league. Like any deal and any nation, you will always try to get the best deal for the cheapest price.

Now we can look at the theory that England is not actually producing enough good quality players. When you look at the facts and the players that England has available, you will find that there is a long list of world-class talent available. Players like Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand, Hargreaves, Owen and not forgetting David Beckham can all be categorized in this group. In addition there are a lot of young players coming up through the ranks.  Players such as Lennon, Young, Walcott, Bentley, Agbonlahor, Ashton are all amazing young talents. Therefore, the theory that England does not have enough talent does not quite carry weight. So we have to ask ourselves what is the problem?

It seems that with the enormous amount of English talent available, that part of the problem appears to be down to management and managers.  England has got quality players, but has it got quality managers, who can make this talent to grow and gel together as a team? We all like to be scientific in these matters, but luck or lack of it has certainly played its part, especially, in penalty shootouts (usually with the Germans).  Luck may be a qualitative measure, or opinion and it is difficult to measure as it is based on gut feeling and results. In Sam Adrian’s view, foreign players are good for the game in England, not bad. It is also his view that English talent is not a factor in the first of the England team.  It is still difficult to identify exactly why England can’t seem to win at the highest level.

However, in response to the Helium article (Helium:Andrew Glover, 2008),  a respondent,  (Stephen Culley response to  Andrew Glover, 2008) writes:

“I don’t believe that Arsenal’s lack of English players is a huge problem. After all, Arsenal have one interest and that is to win as much as possible.

Arsenal are producing some potentially great English players. Justin Hoyte, Theo Walcott (although Southampton can take most of the credit for that), Mark Randall. I have seen some good players released (British players) from Arsenal but I am not going to say that I am anyway qualified to tell Arsene Wenger what he should do with his team.

I think that the emergence of the likes of Hoyte, Randall and Walcott will inspire local youngsters to think; “Hey, that could be me one day”. Young players need role models and I think that the current crop of British players in Arsenal’s reserve and youth teams can serve as those role models in the future.

I would like to see a guarantee that all top flight teams would have so many home-grown players in their match-day squads but not at the detriment of the Premier League. There is a reason that the Premiership is beamed all the way around the world and it’s because the foreign players help to attract interest from their home countries (along with the fact that the Premier League owns some of the best players in the world).

If English players are good enough to break through, they will. But, don’t forget this. There is a premium that comes with any English player when linked with top clubs. Wayne Rooney commanded 30 million from Manchester United, Theo Walcott cost Arsenal upwards of 8 million. This is why some top teams can’t buy young English talent into their squads.

Whatever you may think of Arsenal and their transfer policy, they have played some fantastic football this season. Proof that their system works.

And, just think, Manuel Almunia could end up playing for England. Something to look forward to at least.”

Another article (Jason Pereira response to  Andrew Glover, 2008), in response to the same article thinks that Arsene Wenger has other motives:

““’He’ll never sign for Arsenal, he’s English. Don’t you know Wenger hates English players? “This is the comment a friend of mine gave me when we spoke about the link between Arsenal and Leighton Baines. Although the first Wenger team was built of an English back five (Seamen, Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn), these players were inherited from a previous Arsenal manager, George Graham. Nevertheless, they conjectured that the strict dietary regimen and methodical training schedule of Wenger expanded their careers by at least another five years or so. The sight of Parlour marauding up and down the right flank was a common one at the start of the new millennium and of course which Arsenal fan can forget Ian Wright latching on to through balls to round the keeper and score.

However, in recent times Wenger’s transfer policy has been to sign mainly foreign players. Why, you ask? For top-class England players Wenger has always been priced off the market. Wayne Rooney, a player loved by Wenger, went for a record 30 million pounds while Wenger found Van Persie, the world class, for about 2.75 million pounds, less than a tenth of Rooney’s cost! Other examples would include 30 million pounds for Rio Ferdinand compared to 150,000 pounds for Kolo Toure, or even 1 million pounds for the prodigious Cesc Fabregas whilst Michael Carrick went for 18.6 million pounds. Nevertheless, many critics of Wenger’s transfer policy say he could sign other less priced English players, such as Joey Barton, or Steve Sidwell, or even David Nugent. What they fail to realise is that Wenger has had his hands burned thrice by English players and thus is wary of taking the risk again. Pennant, a promising winger and thought of by many of being capable of replacing Ljungberg on the right wing was constantly drinking after games, arriving late for training and getting into the press for bad behaviour. Francis Jeffers, the supposed next English Michael Owen tempted Wenger to part with 10.5 million pounds for him- but he developed into a flop of the highest order and was quickly jettisoned for a huge loss. Lastly, all Arsenal fans can remember being knifed in the back by club idol, and possible future captain Ashley Cole. The England left back met London rivals Chelsea’s manager and director of football in a hotel just a week before a big game and then wrote a book critisising all at the club- manager, players, and fans included. “

These articles seem to sum up the view that English players are not beyond winning at the highest level, and is a view shared by many.


In concluding that save a lot of time answer the questions we identified:

“Does the influence of world class foreign players imply that existing English players can find more opportunities within the English game, albeit with lesser clubs?”

Ans) This is probably true of a few clubs like Arsenal, but not true of all English clubs. Certainly in a club like Manchester United, which has a mix of world class foreign and English players, this is not the case

“Does this imply that English players are just not good enough to fulfil roles at the highest level?”

Ans) The general view in this regard is that this is not true.  English players are good enough to fulfil roles at their highest level; it’s probably a management failure in ensuring that these players work together successfully at the national level.

“Are there equal opportunities within the game, as a result of foreign influence?”

Ans) At the moment there are equal opportunities within the game.  However, if a limit is put on the number of foreign players who can play for a club,   This may change the situation.

“Is the use of foreign players based on sound business decisions?”

Ans) In this regard, it is a resounding yes.  It is probably the case that if more clubs could afford it, they would also use foreign influence.

“Does this have a bearing on the way the game is managed in England and the training of English youngsters?”

Ans) The conclusion is that so far, England has not yet found a manager who can utilise English talent to its best at national level. However, the training schemes of English youngsters are a factor which should be considered, and the way this training is currently undertaken at grass roots level.

“Can English players learn from their foreign counterparts?”

Ans) Most certainly, English players can learn from their foreign counterparts.  Especially those from countries whose football stars are different to the English football style, and bring with them different skill sets. For example, players from Brazil play a different style and have a lot of flair.

“Should there be a limit on the number of foreign players, so that English players can develop their own game without foreign influence?”

Ans) At the moment is the majority view is that there should be no limit on the number of foreign players playing in the English football league.  It is considered that such a move would stifle quality in the game.



  • Globalization or Internationalization Foreign Footballers in the English League, 1946-95. Patrick McGovern. 2002
  • Soccernet, 2007, Foreign quota bad for English football. Available from https://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=480946&campaign=rss&source=soccernet&cc5739  Accessed 25 March 2008
  • Helium:Andrew Glover, 2008, Is Arsenal’s lack of English players’ a problem? Available from https://www.helium.com/items/443609-monday-february-proclaimed-historic Accessed 25 March 2008
  • Helium: Stephen Culley response to  Andrew Glover, 2008 Available from https://www.helium.com/items/787086-believe-arsenals-english-players
  • Helium: Jason Periera response to  Andrew Glover, 2008 Available from
  • Sam Adriance, 2007, Oh No! The Big Bad Foreigner Is Coming to Ruin English Football!. Available from https://soccerlens.com/oh-no-the-big-bad-foreigner-is-coming-to-ruin-english-football/3447/ Accessed 25 March 2008


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