What makes a player ‘home grown’?


The award for most underwhelming rule change of the season goes to that regarding the necessity for each Premier League club to name a specific 25-man squad consisting of at least eight so-called “Home Grown Players”. It was billed as the rule that would force clubs to pick British players at the expense of those from abroad. Except, of course, it didn’t. Take Roque Santa Cruz as an example. Clearly unloved and unwanted by Manchester City, the Paraguayan was not cast out of the club and forced to live in a holding pen by the M62 erected for the habitation of disaffected Premier League footballers in order to make way for youngsters who happened to have been born within a tram ride of Eastlands. Regardless of his place near the foot of the pecking order of strikers, there was still room for Santa Cruz in City’s 25-man squad. True, one spot was made available due to the exile of Craig Bellamy to the Championship and another from the sale of Robinho to AC Milan. However, the latter would have been sold anyway, regardless of the new rules, while Bellamy’s all-expenses-paid trip to Cardiff is not so much a season in the Championship wilderness for the player but a wonderful opportunity to help elevate his hometown club to the top tier and revel in the support of their fans along the way.

In truth, the only high-profile casualty from the rule change was Jonathan Woodgate. Harry Redknapp left him out of Spurs’ 25-man squad and, although the rules would allow for the player’s re-inclusion during the January transfer window should someone else be withdrawn, Woodgate could be facing a year without senior football even if he does recover from a longstanding groin injury. Ironically, Woodgate’s spot was taken by Rafael van der Vaart, with the rules that were supposed to promote British talent instead forcing Redknapp to exclude the 29-year-old England defender in order to make way for his new Dutch midfielder. Thanks to their commendable habit of buying players from the Football League, Spurs had already filled their quota of home grown players and so it was not necessary for Woodgate to make up the numbers.

The new “17+8” rule disappointed because it was riddled with self-defeating clauses that undermined any intention that the new system might have had to promote talent from within these shores. To be classified as home grown, a player simply had to have been attached to an English or Welsh club for at least three seasons prior to his 21st birthday. So Arsenal’s Cesc Fàbregas, who moved to north London when he was a teenager but wishes he was back at Barcelona every single day, is, in the eyes of the Premier League, as home grown as his teammate, Theo Walcott, who made his debut for Southampton at 16. In fact, the nominally home grown players on Arsenal’s list were all born outside Britain. Premier League rules prescribe that Nicklas Bendtner (Denmark), Denilson (Brazil), Johan Djourou (Switzerland via Ivory Coast), Vito Mannone (Italy) and Alex Song (Cameroon) need not use up any of Arsenal’s available spots for overseas players because the club took them all on at a young enough age. What of Walcott, then, you might ask, or Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey too? They were all named on Arsenal’s Under 21 list, the pool of players that clubs can call upon regardless of their home grown status. Arsène Wenger was not alone in naming established first team players in his side’s list of youngsters rather than the full squad; he was one of a dozen Premier League managers to submit a senior squad that fell short of being 25 players strong, demonstrating the abundance of young talent in the top flight and also implying that most sides exist on a core group of around 20 players rather than a bloated bunch of 25 senior pros.

Over at Wigan, Charles N’Zogbia – French-born and of Congolese descent – qualified as one of the Latics’ home grown players because Newcastle first brought him to England from Le Havre at 18, whereas fellow midfielder James McArthur did not meet the necessary criteria because he came through the ranks with Hamilton and did not move to England until the summer. If a player such as Aston Villa’s James Collins can achieve home grown status by virtue of having been schooled at a Welsh club (Cardiff) then it seems unfair that the regulation is not extended to young Scottish and Northern Irish footballers too. It’s one of the many anomalies in the rules as they stand at the moment, along with the 3-year rule regarding home grown status and the setting of the watershed age at 21.

Although Mikel Arteta’s possible eligibility for an England call-up finally seems to have been ruled out by FIFA, that issue and this week’s unveiling of the official Premier League squads ensure that the notion of what a home grown player is has become an increasingly prevalent concern. Is it down to where a player is born, where his parents are from, where he learns the game, or where he travels to ply his trade? This writer is of the opinion that nationality is such a fluid concept that it is a waste of time and energy for the Premier League or the Football Association to regulate which players clubs can and cannot pick along geographical lines, especially when clubs can circumvent the rules by acquiring foreign talent at a young enough age anyway. And so, if Arteta qualifies for British citizenship on the grounds of residency, then surely that should allow him to play for England too if that is indeed his sincere wish. Arteta is certainly talented enough to merit consideration and, if Fàbregas can qualify as a home grown player after spending enough years in north London, then what’s to stop another Spaniard on Merseyside qualifying for the national side?

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  • Suminder Sandhu says:

    I agree with you. In terms of being an underwhelming rule, it really is hollow legislation.

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