Citizen Kane: Why Harry isn’t good for English Football

By Max Siteman

Once upon a time, there was a footballer called Harry Edward Kane who grew a liking for the game. Initially considered not good enough at Arsenal, young Harry picked up his bindle to move across North London to Arsenal’s rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. After a couple of seasons low down the pecking order, a young manager called Mauricio Pochettino gave our pal Harry some game time. Fast forward to 7 February 2015, and the precocious talent heads in the winner against the club that jilted him so callously. He dives legs first toward the corner flag to metaphorically roundhouse kick Arsène Wenger in the face. Harry Kane’s Hollywood storyline is the new budding franchise Michael Bay needs to give the world. Kane in Qatar: Rise of the Nepalese Migrant Zombies. But there is another way to tell Harry’s story. For many people he’s emblematic of a host of talented English players at clubs all over the Premier League, who simply need their opportunity. An opportunity being blocked by foreign players with exciting sounding names, like Roberto Soldado and Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor. The only problem is, that isn’t true.

The debate about how the failings of the England football team can be improved isn’t particularly varied. One side says we need more English players playing in the Premier League, and the other side hasn’t been thought up yet. Unsurprisingly, the global brand of the Premier League, which secured TV rights deals of over 5 billion, does not have a majority of English players. Adding fuel to the fire, the English national team performed badly in Brazil and no English teams reached the quarter finals of the Champions League. The FA director, Greg Dyke, has labelled the situation “pathetic” and in an interview with the BBC, a journeyman of the game, Lee Canoville, hinted that Arsenal had blocked the careers of a number of English players in favour of foreign players in 2001. The only interesting thing about that story was that the BBC gave Lee Canoville (who was last seen playing at Spalding United) front page coverage. Ultimately, Dyke’s plan is an increase in home-grown players in Premier League squads from 8 to 12 starting in 2016-17. For all the media coverage, it doesn’t seem like much, eh?

However, the argument about the blocking of English players is based upon a false premise: that the coaching of youth football in England is as good as everywhere else. According to the UEFA stats, England has 1,395 coaches with Pro and A qualification badges in comparison to Germany’s 6,934 and Spain’s 15,423. Whilst the development of a player is based on innumerable variables, giving as many players, as young as possible, the best coaching available will ultimately produce good players. If there are many Harry Kanes bubbling under the surface, how can you be sure of their development? Coaching from a young age is surely the answer. Harry Kane might be a unique example of late career development, but it tells us little else about how to produce great footballers.

In a bloated market of inflated prices, where making money is essential, why aren’t the fringe English players of Premier League teams being sold and bought by foreign clubs? In football, talent is democratic and if foreign teams saw potential in these unused English gems, they would make use of them. Why, for the 30 year period (1970-2000), when foreigners in the top division of English football were virtually non-existent, weren’t English national teams winning international competitions? What we have seen in the last ten years has been the result of pathetic FA investment in youth-level football. As a result of this ineptitude, Kenny Saunders, coach of the renowned Liverpool Boys club Woolton FC, started a national campaign in 2013 called Save Grassroots Football. According to their website, the FA invest up to “50 million” into grassroots every year. That’s worth about 84 percent of Angel Di Maria, so lop off a lower appendage and call it evens.

Despite this, the future is bright. In the second UEFA Youth League (the Champions League for kids), Chelsea won the competition with 15 out of 18 English players, nearly all of whom represent England at various youth levels. In the last under-17 European championship, England won the tournament on penalties against the Netherlands. These youth competitions are a pretty good indicator of successful international teams. Germany and Spain each won previous competitions with many of the players that went on to win World Cups. However, as much as Kane will be a success for the English national team, his achievements have refocused the conversation from the sustained emphasis on grassroots football to arbitrary foreign quotas. The recent development of young talent has been a result of clubs financing their own development. The majority of the U-17 European-winning championship team are the same crop of players who won the UEFA Youth League with Chelsea. The FA needs to focus on youth level player development too. Not quotas stinking of media hype and a Greg Dyke re-election campaign.

Simply put, foreign quotas will add little to the development of Chris Smalling, Ryan Mason or Danny Rose. The next generation is where real change can be made. Any further questions, Lee Canoville is always willing to give an interview.

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