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Why improving England’s footballing talent is more than a simple numbers game by Oliver Benjamin and Hark Atwal

Categories : Figure It OutSport
This probably has not been one of the most exciting seasons in the history of the English Premier League; only one clear winner from the outset, and two of the three relegation places decided before the final day.

But what is interesting is what could happen next season. There has already been talk of clubs being given a blank cheque book to strengthen their squads again, especially given the new bumper TV deal the Premier League has agreed. However, one stumbling block for bulk buying might come from the game’s governing body.

The FA has proposed new regulations to increase the number of “home-grown” players in the top-flight of English football in order to improve the fortunes of the national team. This has received positive and negative feedback, citing arguments over whether importing talent from overseas is limiting opportunities for home-grown players to perform consistently, thereby having an impact on the national team.

We analysed the proposals to determine if clubs can already fulfil these requirements. As a comparable measure, clubs from the top-flight of Spanish, German, Italian and French football were also subjected to these new proposals. These were the proposals that were put forward:

  1. A player will have to have been registered with a British club from the age of 15 - down from 18 - to qualify as 'home-grown'
  2. The minimum number of home-grown players in a club's first-team squad of 25 will increase from eight to 12, phased over four years from 2016
  3. At least two home-grown players must also be 'club-trained' players - defined as any player, irrespective of nationality, that has been registered for three years at their club from the age of 15

We decided to look from an operational perspective how this would impact English clubs in comparison to their European counterparts. Analysis has already confirmed that five Premier League clubs would currently fail to comply with the new proposals, but, looking at the clubs’ squad lists, let’s see if this is just an English issue, or more a continental one:


Figure 1 - Proportion of European clubs that would be compliant with the FA's new proposals

It can be seen here that it would not just be the Premier League that would not have complete compliance with the FA’s new proposals, should European football associations wish to implement the same regulations for their respective clubs. Italian and Spanish leagues currently have a significantly higher proportion of clubs that would not meet these requirements – and, as of 17th May 2015, their national football teams are currently better than England’s and have had more recent success in international tournaments.

So this posed one key question...
 
Will these proposals actually make the England team better?

Two measures were devised for this; the first being to look back over the FIFA World Rankings of the England football team since the World Cup in 1994, determine the team’s highest, average and lowest rankings in that time frame, and calculating the proportion of English players represented in the Premier League each year.

The other measure was to look back at the performance (or failings!) of England in international tournaments (both European Championships and the World Cup), determine the team’s highest, average and lowest tournament finishes in that time frame, and work out the proportion of English players represented in the Premier League prior to the start of the tournament.

The hypothesis behind this was that with a larger proportion of English players being represented in the Premier League, the better England’s chances will be in international tournaments and therefore England’s world ranking. Again, this was measured against France, Germany, Italy and Spain for comparison.

Here is our analysis from a tournament finish perspective:


Figure 2 - Highest, average and lowest international tournament finishes* and their respective proportions of home nation players

*If a tournament finish was achieved more than once, then the average proportion of home-nation players in the top-flight in each instance was taken

The analysis does appear to show some trend between a high tournament finish and a high proportion of home-nation players represented top-flight football, however the results for France and Spain appear to reject this theory. Let’s see if this trend holds from a world ranking perspective:


Figure 3 - Highest, average and lowest FIFA World Rankings* and their respective proportions of home-nation players

*If a world ranking was achieved more than once, then the average proportion of home-nation players in the top-flight in each instance was taken. FIFA world rankings taken from the month of May each year

From an England point of view, this analysis appears to reject the hypothesis that a higher proportion of home-nation players will result in a higher world ranking for the associated national team, which is supported further by Germany, Italy and Spain.
 
What can be concluded from this analysis is that clubs from other major European leagues will struggle to comply with the FA’s new proposals, with Italy and Spain being particularly prominent in this regard – which is surprising due to the nations’ more recent successes in international tournaments.

Furthermore, simply increasing the proportion of home-grown talent in the top-flight of a domestic league does not necessarily translate into success at international level. Just like in the business world, the output of services on an international scale is becoming ever more dependent on a multicultural workforce. Employees from diverse backgrounds can share different ideas and experiences that will enhance the skills and knowledge of a company and make it more adaptable with allocation of resources.

Perhaps this is what the English game needs. It is all very well trying to flood the Premier League with English players – they probably need to be talented, skilful and adaptable too, something that can be learnt in-part from their foreign adversaries. Now this is only one way of looking at how the new FA proposals might affect the fortunes of the England national football team. Any future analysis into this subject may reveal more favourable results!

About the author

Hark Atwal
Hark Atwal
Analytics leader at Capgemini Consulting with track record of driving business performance through data driven solutions.

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