Brexit may help Southgate halt “incredible” decline of English players in Premier League sides

England manager Gareth Southgate.
England manager Gareth Southgate.
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England manager Gareth Southgate has called for urgent action to address the “incredible” fall in the number of English-qualified starters in Premier League teams.

Only 54 of the 220 starters in the Premier League last weekend could have been selected by Southgate, a new low after the previous weekend’s tally of 56.

This means the average number of English-qualified starters has fallen from about one in three to one in four in the space of a year and Southgate is wondering when the decline will stop.

“It it is incredible – it was a 33 per cent on average last season, then it went below 29 per cent (at the start of this season) and this weekend it was below 25 per cent for all of the teams,” said Southgate.

“Nobody can tell me that if players are good enough, they will come through. That is not true. There are plenty of players who are good enough.”

The 48-year-old was in Dublin on Sunday and Monday for the draws of the Euro 2020 qualification tournament and next summer’s Nations League Final.

The latter saw England drawn against Netherlands on June 6, with the winners facing either hosts Portugal or Switzerland on June 9 for a chance to win the inaugural Nations League tournament.

After this summer’s run to the last four of the World Cup, that would be a significant step for Southgate and his upwardly-mobile team. And then there is the prospect of further glory at Euro 2020, where Wembley will host seven games, including the semi-finals and final.

But if the Three Lions really are going to enter an era of sustained success, Southgate and the Football Association believe the current crop of talented English youngsters must be given a fair chance by their clubs.

That is the backdrop to the FA’s attempt to use Brexit as an opportunity to reduce the number of overseas players in Premier League squads. The clubs, on the other hand, see Brexit as a chance to shop around the globe with the same freedom they have enjoyed within the European Union.

The FA is willing to relax the rules on the work permits that all overseas players are likely to need in future but only if clubs accept an increase in the number of homegrown players per 25-man squad from eight to 12.

The governing body points out that there are about 13 overseas players on average per Premier League squad and those teams with more are not actually using them – a situation it thinks proves the point about experienced but essentially mediocre foreigners blocking homegrown talent.

The clubs, however, are opposed to increasing the quota as they believe it will harm their ability to compete in Europe, harm the league’s global appeal and raise transfer fees. They also say their academies are better than ever and good homegrown players will break through.

But that claim is something Southgate struggles to believe.

“For parents and boys entering academies, you expect there to be opportunity at the end,” he said. “I go back to previous tournaments when we have reviewed everything that has gone on in English football. So many of those things are in the right place now, this is just the missing piece that everybody is keen to resolve.”