The foreign players debate just isn’t going away, if anything it’s currently mushrooming as more people jump on the bandwagon of blaming overseas players for the woes of the England football team. This is a follow up to an earlier post on the same topic in which I hope to raise some additional points for the defence.
1.) The best leagues attract the best talent
As explored in the previous post, the leagues regarded as the top five are among those with the highest proportion of foreign players. The proportion of foreign players in the Premier League was 65%, Serie A 53.9%, Bundesliga 48.7%, Ligue 1 42.4% and the Spanish Primera Division at 37.3%. By contrast those at the lower end of the scale included Albania 14.1%, Iceland 13.4%, and Finland at 18.8%.
The number of foreign players is therefore, in many cases an indicator of the relative strength of a league. The economics of this is simple. The best leagues attract the most broadcasting money and the most fans through the gates. This enables them to pay top wages and attract talent from other weaker leagues and so strengthen their position. This is of course bad from the perspective of smaller leagues, but in terms of the England team having a stronger league is surely better than having a weak contest where players rarely come up against the best opposition, or benefit from the best coaching.
A second point is that although at 65% the Premier League does look like a bit of an outlier even compared to the big-five this is in fact deceptive. According to the very latest data from transfermarkt.co.uk of the ‘foreign’ players currently playing in the English Premier League 23 are Scottish, 15 Welsh and 9 Northern Irish. What we have with the English, Scottish and Welsh leagues is a rather unique situation. Were, for example, Catalonia to be treated in the same way then the number of ‘foreign’ players in the Primera division would undoubtedly be much higher.
2.) The myth of the cheap import
The argument here is one which draws parallels with consumer goods like motorbikes, fridge-freezers or televisions. i.e that foreign players act as cheap alternatives to domestically produced goods (in this case football players), being unable to compete domestic goods are then displaced from the market, factories close and whole industries collapse. Now, this may, or may not have been the case in the past, but the argument doesn’t stand up to simple logic:
Since Bosman players have far more power to set their rates. If it were the case that foreign players were preferred over English players based solely on price then it would be relatively simple for English players to adjust their demands to restore parity, or even to undercut the competition and as football players, even the foreign ones, are paid very well then no player will starve by lowering their demands. Therefore to price themselves out of the market would be plainly illogical.
The alternative view therefore, is that in the current market clubs are willing to outbid each other for the top talent then it’s quality, not price which counts. The players being displaced are the ones whose quality is poorer, and if their quality was worse to begin with then would they be the ones even in line for England selection?
3.) Playing abroad never did Gary Lineker any harm
Greater freedom of movement has created an open market in footballers and for the reasons already outlined this open market has vastly increased the number of foreign players in the Premier League, but at the same time has provided opportunities to English players to play in Europe. According to Transfermarkt 411 English players were playing abroad in the 2012/13 season. And in terms of the England team, playing for Barcelona never did Gary Lineker any harm – just as appearing for Real Madrid won’t hurt Gareth Bale’s international career with Wales. If anything more English players need to seek clubs abroad – as this graph shows, with the exception of Iceland, most English players abroad remain within the English speaking world.