Much is often made of the high percentage of overseas players in the Premier League, particularly compared with other domestic leagues across Europe. Each season, that figure appears to increase as the number of Englishmen on show decreases. A recent study by the CIES Football Observatory Weekly Post revealed the true extent of how few home-grown footballers are gracing the Premier League. Staggeringly, the report found that at only four top-flight outfits have Englishmen featured in more than 50 per cent of the minutes played this season.
One club is bucking the trend, however. AFC Bournemouth have fielded English players for 81 per cent of the available minutes in the Premier League this campaign – comfortably the most of any club. To put that figure into perspective, newly promoted Burnley are second on the list, with 62 per cent. In stark contrast Watford sit bottom of the table, with Englishmen featuring just nine per cent of the time there. The statistics don’t make much better reading for some of the Premier League’s powerhouses either, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City all below 25 per cent.
Cherries manager Eddie Howe has consistently stated that, whenever possible, he tries to buy British. The make-up of his current squad underlines how he has largely stuck to that principle, with 18 of the 27 players either British or Irish. Indeed, in the recent fixture against Watford at Vicarage Road, nine of the starting XI were qualified to represent England, with Artur Boruc and Harry Arter (who was born in England but represents Ireland) the only exceptions.
In the most recent transfer window, Howe signed four foreigners; Nathan Ake on loan from Chelsea, Emerson Hyndman from Fulham, Brad Smith from Liverpool and Lys Mousset from Ligue 1 side Le Havre. Crucially though, of that quartet only Mousset had no prior experience of the Premier League’s unique intensity. The reason Howe generally opts to raid English clubs relates to his coaching. So demanding is he of his squad that it can take time for new recruits to adjust to his methods. Juan Iturbe, who joined on loan from Roma last season, is a case in point. He had raw talent but found it difficult to carry out Howe’s instructions. As such he featured only sporadically. Likewise, Frenchman Mousset, who was signed for £5m, has yet to play a part in a league fixture.
While buying British may be an admirable stance, it can also be an expensive one. It is no secret there is a premium on home-grown players. Bournemouth smashed their transfer record in the summer with the £15m capture of Jordon Ibe, a winger who was not even a regular for Liverpool. This followed the £10m signing last January of striker Benik Afobe from Wolves, who had not played a single minute of Premier League football in his career. With those fees in mind, there is an argument that shopping abroad offers better value for money.
Among the reasons why Howe has been touted for the England manager’s job – and why he has numerous admirers in the FA’s corridors of power – is his transfer policy. Watching players like Callum Wilson and Adam Smith develop under his tutelage has enhanced his coaching credentials during a period of immense uncertainty for the national team. Premier League clubs are not obligated to field a team of Englishmen and no criticism should be attached to those that don’t. Every club works to a different financial model. But, given the lack of opportunities open to English players, isn’t it refreshing to see a manager who would rather nurture home-grown talent than look abroad at the first opportunity?
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