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Could FA Borrow China’s practises to help the Three Lions?

Friday 28th April 2017
England. A football juxtaposition. The Premier League is envied by the world. Everyone wants to be involved. The national side? Not so much. Could the FA borrow concepts from Beijing to further the Three Lions prospects?

England's national football has been anticlimactic for the past fifteen years. Perfect qualification campaigns have been followed by poor performances in major tournaments. Unsurprisingly, supporters are somewhat disenchanted with the Three Lions.

Meanwhile, some 5,000 miles away, China's local football association is forcing practices on the Chinese Super League to help grow its national football team. Many stipulations are originating from the Management Centre of Football, an official governmental body. The changes have been made as part of a larger project to make China a world force in sports.

One key rule, legislated just before the season began, limits CSL teams to fielding three non-Chinese players in a match day squad. The quota provides more opportunities for Chinese players, as opposed to having their places taken by highly paid foreign stars. Every Chinese Super League match will feature a bare minimum sixteen homegrown players, eight per team.

By comparison, the FA has no such rules. While there must be eight homegrown players on a Premier League roster, they needn't be English, or even British. Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, born in Catalonia, is a homegrown player. So is Manchester United's French midfielder, Paul Pogba.

Nor does the FA mandate homegrown players actually play. Over its last two league games prior to the Manchester Derby, Manchester City did not start an English player. The Premier League simply isn't doing its bit for England. Catalan Pep Guardiola is working for Qatari Sheikh Mansour, not FA Chairman Greg Clarke; he has no obligation to fulfill any unwritten moral or patriotic objective to provide domestic talent an opportunity.
The Chinese FA further stipulates that, every match day, teams must field one Chinese player under the age of twenty-three. The new policy ensures youngsters enjoy exposure to top-tier football. Failure to play by these rules risks fines and point deductions.

In England, browsing the U21 England squad would likely leave those who supported the 1966 World Cup winning side bemused. Players in the current squad are far from household names. How could they be when they haven't featured for the first team? Jordan Pickford is a notable exception, as Sunderland's number one goalkeeper. Conversely, Chelsea's Nathaniel Chalobah is the highest capped player at the U21 level. He struggles to get a look in at Stamford Bridge. Chalobah has played in FA Cup games but only been used as a late substitute league matches, although none in 2017.

While it's too early to decide whether the Chinese FA's rules are helping the national side, it seems the right thing to do. More exposure to top-level football will surely be better for young players' long-term futures than warming the bench. Team Dragon did beat fierce rival South Korea for the first time in a competitive fixture last month, in World Cup qualifying. Perhaps that's an early sign of things to come.

The FA, not as tightly managed by Parliament, could still introduce similar rules to allow English players further opportunity. No one wants to frighten off foreign talent from gracing our game but there comes a point, say when teams regularly fail to play a single Englishman, that the institution needs to step in.

The most basic solution would be to introduce a minimum domestic player quota. Unlike the Chinese variation, where emphasis is on restricting incoming international players; this would focus on English players getting opportunities to play for English teams. Players such as Danny Drinkwater, Marcus Rashford, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be playing at every club. Not all would make the Three Lions but the opportunity would exist.

China's rules are more draconian, but England is at the opposite extreme. It needs a less anarchic top flight competition. Players such as Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph, and Danny Welbeck aren't gaining anything from warming the bench. Nor are the Three Lions. The Chinese Super League, as money-laden, as it is, is doing far more than England in terms of fostering local talent. We need to wake up.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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