The CIES Football Observatory, which collates statistics and research for professional use in the game, found that in matches up to 21 October, only 13.9% of players were homegrown. In an echo of this summer’s World Cup, the Premier League also has the lowest proportion of homegrown players who are English – 77% – while 96% of homegrown players in Germany were qualified to play for their country, the world champions, 93% in France, 92% in Spain and 79% in Italy.
The Premier League is fourth out of the “big five” leagues when it comes to bringing homegrown players through the ranks, behind France’s Ligue 1 (24.6%) La Liga (22.4%) and Germany’s Bundesliga (16.4%). Serie A in Italy fielded a lower proportion, only 9.6%.
CIES used the Uefa definition of homegrown: a first-team player who trained for at least three years with his club between the ages of 15 and 21. Players were counted if they have either featured in a league match this season, or been an unused substitute if they played a senior game in each of the last two seasons.
Raffaele Poli, head of the CIES Football Observatory, said the figures illustrate the Premier League’s financial success has diminished opportunities for homegrown players: “The low percentage of club-trained players in England confirms that if clubs have the money to buy talent, they tend to be reluctant to give a chance to youth academy players. So the question is: why are clubs signing the best prospects, if they know they will not play?”
Poli said that with the overall figure for homegrown players falling across Europe’s big five leagues, from 20.2% in 2010 to 17.2%, the evidence is clubs are “hoarding” young talent in academies without selecting them for first teams.
“The key issue is talented players must play as much as possible in adult leagues,” he said. “There is a highly positive correlation between matches played between 18 and 21 in professional leagues, irrespective of the level, and future career path.”
The figures do not equate directly to the number of young English players fielded by Premier League clubs, because Uefa’s definition of “homegrown” includes overseas players who trained for three years at a club in their youth. Uefa requires clubs competing in the Champions, or Europa, League to have eight homegrown players in their squads. Manchester City can reduce that to five, after having their overall squad limited to 21 for breaching financial fair play rules.
The figures are a disappointment for FA Chairman Greg Dyke, who set up a commission to examine the decline in English players appearing for top clubs, and the Premier League, whose stated policy is to give young players first-team opportunities. However, there are bright spots as outlined by the paper: Manchester United, despite the flurry of high-priced overseas signings in the final weeks of the summer, have fielded 12 homegrown players this season, the fifth-highest number in the big five.
A Premier League spokesman said the “absolute focus” of the league’s elite player performance plan youth system is “to produce more and better homegrown players,” and pointed to an 11% increase overall this season in English player appearances.
“The clubs’ commitment to this programme of investment is already working,” the spokesman said.