The curtain fell on England’s international season in the Maracana on Sunday night and even though they played out a satisfying 2-2 draw with Brazil, the large possibility of Roy Hodgson’s men failing to return next year for the World Cup still lingers. A disjointed performance against Ireland followed a stuttering qualifying process that has so far only yielded victories against San Marino and Moldova, whilst Brazil were much superior on Sunday until Hodgson altered things from the bench.
He will be glad of the 2 month break with Scotland next up in August as again criticism has been levelled against his tactics that many see as ancient, it was Gary Lineker that baited Hodgson into a staunch defence in the aftermath of the 1-1 draw with Ireland. Hodgson’s main line of security is the ever-declining quota of talent he can pick from and at a time when both the under-19s and under-21s are competing elsewhere, it especially resonates as a valid excuse. Though last week, the FA’s incoming chairman Greg Dyke seemed to sum the hopelessness of the battle Hodgson faces by hinting towards a 60% English player-ruling with each Premier League club.
At the moment, England are best represented at Norwich who boast a 60.7% quota of England players, but at the other end of the scale lie Fulham who tally a meagre 14.3%. Out of the 30 players that represented Fulham last season, only 5 were English; the uncapped Steve Sidwell played 24 times, Kieron Richardson, who was capped 8 times 7 years ago, made 14 appearances whilst Emmanuel Frimpong, David Stockdale and Alex Smith managed a total of 7 appearances combined. Stockdale was called up to the squad twice during the Fabio Capello era and has proved himself an able deputy to Mark Schwarzer when the Australian has been injured, yet Fulham have this week closed in on the signing of Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands goalkeeper who has been capped 54 times.
Fulham will reportedly pay Roma £4 million for Stekelenberg, a goalkeeper with a wealth of experience, including playing in a World Cup final, ensuring Martin Jol is well-prepared for life after the 40 year old Schwarzer. For Stockdale, 27, it means further years of playing number 2 at Craven Cottage or leaving in order to find first team football. The latter scenario will mean Fulham lose one of their extremely sparse England contingent but that is unlikely to bother Jol and his band of multi-cultural players, already added to this summer with the Venezuelan Fernando Amorebieta and the Ghanaian Derek Boateng. In a first team squad made up of 28 players at Fulham, there are now 22 different nationalities.
It is this extent of foreign influx that Dyke acknowledges is compromising England’s chances of ever genuinely competing on the international stage again. Currently, only 36% of the Premier League are eligible to be called up to Roy Hodgson’s squad, a pale comparison to the 61% Vincent Del Bosque has to chose from with world champions Spain in La Liga. France’s Ligue 1 stands at 60% home-grown, Italy’s Serie A at 46% whilst Germany, who provided both Champions League finalists at Wembley last week, stands at 47%. Hodgson, who was managing Fulham just three years ago, is being let down by clubs like the Cottagers who are unfortunately not prioritised with the safeguarding of England’s international future. Dyke knows this and Hodgson, who was forced into picking the unfit Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe for these recent friendlies because of a dearth of alternatives, does too.
Since Hodgson left Fulham for Liverpool in the summer of 2010, there have been 28 players arriving through the door at Craven Cottage and only 5 of that total have been English. The counter-argument is that English players are simply not good enough to be trusted with the responsibility of representing a club competing to stay in a league where financial rewards are gargantuan. However, both Norwich and Southampton avoided relegation with squads made up of 60% English quotas, the former even finishing above Jol’s Fulham by a point. The harsh truth is that Jol can find young, cheap overseas talent like Sascha Reither, Alexander Kačaniklić and Kerim Frei due to a multi-national coaching staff and flood his squad with players of that ilk, without any responsibility or threat of binding.
Under current ruling, Fulham are entitled to do just that and perhaps it is unfair to focus on their squad of multi-nationals as an explanation for England’s failure, but Dyke’s words need to be heeded or else the same rhetoric will be spun for the considerable future. Below Norwich and Southampton who both break Dyke’s target of 60%, no Premier League deserves credit as the decline sets out from West Ham’s 51% quota of native players. At the very bottom we find Fulham who are preparing to welcome Mark Stekelenberg with open arms, the future of David Stockdale provides the microcosm of the Englishman’s fate, an afterthought to the exotic nature of the domestic league.