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Part Two – Home Grown Player requirements in English football and the introduction of “club-developed” players

Last week, Sports Shorts considered the genesis of home grown player requirements within European football and the current requirements that are in place in both the English Football League (“EFL”) and the English Premier League (“EPL”).

In this second instalment, we discuss whether or not the requirement to name home grown players in match day squads is an effective means of developing elite English-qualified talent and providing them with sufficient opportunities in first team football.

Why have the EFL implemented changes to its home grown player regime?

The forthcoming changes to the EFL Rules and Regulations form part of the EFL’s wider strategy of revitalising the fortunes of the England national team.

In May 2014, then FA Chairman Greg Dyke published his England Commission report (“Commission Report”), which sought to identify and address the causes of the Three Lions’ decline on the international stage.

One of the four “key areas” identified as being the primary obstruction to the development of young English players was a lack of competitive playing opportunities for 18-21 year old elite players at top clubs, with too few graduating from academies to first team football, instead falling foul of what was described as the “Bermuda triangle” of English football during the Professional Development Phase of their academy life.

Whilst some of the more controversial proposals in the report were emphatically rejected (most notably the proposal to create a new “League Three” in the football league structure and introduce Premier League B teams into either the newly-created league or the existing Conference), the EFL has responded to the findings of the Commission Report with the implementation of a number of measures aimed at creating a clearer pathway for young players from clubs’ development programmes into the professional game.

Given that the EFL was one of the first major league associations in Europe to implement home grown requirements when it did so for the 2009-10 season, its enthusiastic response to the Commission Report should not be a surprise. And, when viewed in that context, the implementation of the club-developed player requirement for the 2018-19 season can be seen as a natural progression from the introduction, and subsequent extension, of the existing home grown player requirements.

Prior to the EFL’s recent decision to introduce the new category of “club-developed” player, it is notable that, when implementing their own home grown player requirements, both the EPL and the EFL adopted the “association trained” definition used by UEFA, which did not contain the requirement for those players to have been developed within the club itself.

The EFL’s introduction of the club-developed player requirement signals a departure from the purely “association trained” definition that currently applies for home grown players in both the EPL and the EFL, ensuring that a player with an indelible “connection” to the club (at least in terms of the training they have received) will be on the match day team sheet of every EFL side from the start of the 2018-19 season.

Moreover, the new requirement goes one step further than the requirements currently in place for UEFA competitions. By stipulating that the club-developed players must be in the match day squad (rather than merely having the “potential” to be named in that squad by virtue of being in the wider pool of squad players), the EFL’s decision shows that its 72 member clubs regard the (albeit slight) reduction in autonomy currently afforded to their coaching staff when naming match day squads as being a sacrifice worth making in order to promote young, and preferably English, talent.

Can we expect the introduction of club-developed players in the EPL?

It is notable that the Commission Report proposed that the number of non-home grown players allowed in each Premier League squad should be reduced from the current level of 17 to 12. Under the proposal, starting from the 2016-2017 season, the number of non-home grown players would be gradually reduced (or, conversely, the number of home grown players would be gradually increased) by one each season, ending in the 2020-21 season, at which point the majority of players in the squad of any EPL team would be classified as home grown.

The Commission Report also proposed the simultaneous introduction in the 2016-17 season of “club-trained players”, mirroring the requirement for UEFA competition. Indeed, the Commission Report felt that the introduction of a requirement of 2 “club-trained players” in each squad was achievable, increasing to 3 in the 2018-19 season and to 4 the season after.

However, there are currently no plans for the EPL to follow the recommendations of the Commission Report and increase the required number of home grown players or to follow the EFL’s lead and introduce a new requirement for “club-trained” or “club-developed” players in match day squads.

Are the current home grown player requirements an effective means of producing elite English-qualified players?

Until the EFL Rules and Regulations are formally amended in advance of the 2018-19 season, there remains some uncertainty as to precisely how the new requirements will be worded and interpreted.

For example, will the definition of club-developed player extend to former academy players who are currently registered at their clubs regardless of their age (i.e., a 28 year old former academy star who is now a club stalwart)? It is likely that will be the case, not least given that it aligns with the EFL’s stated goal of increasing the number of academy prospects progressing to first team football. In addition, whilst one would expect it to be the case, a question mark remains as to whether, should they also meet the criteria specified in Rule 33.8, the designated club-developed player will also qualify as a home grown player and count towards both of the match day squad “quotas”.

At a time when just 31% of those starting in EPL matches during the 2015-16 season were qualified to represent England, there are also question marks as to how effective the current home grown player requirements in both the EFL and EPL are, or indeed the impending club developed player requirement in the EFL will be, in producing elite young players who qualify to represent the English national football team.

For example, given that the home grown player requirements apply regardless of nationality, a young starlet could qualify to play for another nation and still be classified as a home grown player in both the EFL and EPL and as a club-developed player in the EFL. By way of example, Cesc Fabregas, who progressed through Arsenal FC’s academy to become a shining light in the first team (thereby fulfilling the requirement to play three seasons or 36 months at a club affiliated with the FA) qualifies as a home grown player for his new side, Chelsea FC. Similarly, following his return to Manchester United FC in August 2016, Paul Pogba qualifies as a home grown player for Jose Mourinho’s side by dint of his time at its academy following his move from Le Havre at the age of 16, despite having moved to Juventus FC in August 2012.

However, given that the current requirements are specifically designed to not benefit or exclude any particular European nationals in order to comply with the requirements on the freedom of movement within the European Single Market, the home grown player requirements that are in place appear to be the best means by which to increase the chances of elite English-qualified talent obtaining opportunities in the first team, whether that be in the EPL or the EFL.

Indeed, the Commission Report noted that, by virtue of the EPL being based in England and Wales, it means that there is a natural bias in the national make up of home grown players towards English and Welsh nationals, with an average of 65% of players who qualify as home grown players being English-qualified.

The likes of Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Jamie Vardy are prominent examples of players who have honed their talents in the EFL and subsequently risen through the leagues to become both established Premiership and international players. The EFL, EPL and the FA will no doubt be hoping that the trio are merely the tip of an iceberg of English talent and that, in time, the home grown and club-developed player requirements will help bring them to the surface.

Part One – Home Grown Player Requirements in English Football and Introduction of Club-Developed Players

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