With Tottenham having signed Ivory Coast under-17 international Souleymane Coulibaly and Chelsea reportedly making an offer for Belgian 18 year old Romelu Lukaku on Wednesday, the question of young, home-grown talent is yet again raising its spotty, bum-fluff-covered head.
The introduction of the 25 man squad last season was meant to safeguard against such an occurrence. Each squad could only have 17 non-home grown players selected, and to be a home-grown player you had to have been registered to an English club for 3 years before your 21st birthday. Got it?
That all sounds well and proper, but the devil is, as ever, in the detail. Let’s take Arsenal‘s squad from last season. Arsene Wenger selected a squad consisting of 7 ‘home-grown’ players. Who were these 7? Gael Clichy, Johan Djourou, Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner, Cesc Fabregas, Vito Mannone and Alex Song. If the intention of the ruling was to safeguard the development of British talent, it would appear that it has failed miserably, as the chances of any of this 7 showing up for a home nations match are approximately non-existent (although in the case of Bendtner, maybe that’s for the best).
But what of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere? Surely they make it into the category of home-grown? They sure do, but due to the fact that they were under 21 at the time of registration they were able to sneak into the under 21 squad. This is where the ruling gets even more ridiculous, because each club is allowed an infinite pool of players under the age of 21 to draw from, and so Walcott and Wilshere didn’t need to be registered in the first team squad, allowing room for extra non-home-grown players in the team.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, what worked last season is not going to be doable this year. Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs are now all above the cut-off age, meaning they have to be added to the main squad. That is assuming Arsene Wenger plans on keeping them all.
This is where it becomes a much greater issue. Due to players that would have ordinarily been part of the youth or reserve set-ups hitting the cut off age, the likes of Tom Cruise, Jay Simpson and Mark Randall have all been released as Wenger’s squad simply can’t accommodate them. More worrying for the Gunners is the fact that over the next two summer the situation becomes even worse, with Wojciech Szczesny, Gavin Hoyte, Craig Eastmond, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Henri Lansbury, Rhys Murphy, Sanchez Watt, Gilles Sunu, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, and Kyle Bartley all set to make the step-up, in age, to the first team squad.
If young British players are constantly being kicked out of the top clubs at the age of 21 then the game in the UK is going to take a serious battering, something that the home-grown players rule was meant to end.