Saturday, 31 July 2010

The FA's New Squad Regulations: A much needed and awaited step in the right direction

With the start of another Premiership season only two weeks away, there will be one question looming over every one of the league's twenty managers - Who should I include in my squad of 25 for the upcoming campaign?

A new initiative is to be implemented for the first time this year in which each Premiership club may only register a squad of 25 players for league games. Within the 25 man selection there must be a minimum of 8 home-grown players.

Players under 21 do not need to be registered and an unlimited number of them can be used. Any senior player not registered in a 25 man squad is forbidden to play in Premiership matches but may still play in the domestic cups. In January the registration window will be re-opened, allowing managers to alter their 25 man squad.

Many may jump to the conclusion that this new law is the result of the inquest into England's woeful performance in the World Cup. The new squad rules were actually decided last September. Nevertheless, its objective remains the same. To encourage the use of home grown players.

The initiative has clear positives but also has been met by inevitable criticism from some managers. One problem that many have been quick to comment on is the definition of a home-grown player.

A home-grown player is not simply someone born in England. It is any player who has spent three or more years at an English club before the season in which they turn 21. Fabregas, for example, would qualify as a home-grown player having moved to Arsenal at the age of 16.

There are many foreign talents waiting to emerge from the youth academies of the big Premiership clubs. The likes of Macheda and Kakuta are just a number of stars of the future who will count as home-grown players.

The problem of this technicality ought no to over-shadow the major promising aspect of the new squad regulations. They promote the use of a club's academy and the investment in young players. Some who come through may be 'home-grown' foreign players but the vast majority, certainly in comparison to senior players in the Premiership, will be genuine home-grown talent.

The fact that no player under 21 has to be registered will also enable young players, otherwise stuck playing for the academy, to gain first team experience. Squad rotation, suspensions and injuries will mean that youngsters may well find their way on to the bench for league matches, offering them valuable experience.

The requirement of a minimum of 8 home-grown players has left many managers with a selection head-ache. Sir Alex Ferguson has already stated that the likes of Anderson and Owen Hargreaves may not make the cut because of their fitness problems.

There is no longer any room for the excess baggage of over-sized squads which will result in many players needing to find a new club, probably abroad, or risk four months without first-team football.

Managers such as Mancini and Wenger have been amongst the most outspoken about the new rules. Not surprisingly, those most opposed to the new regulations are those how will struggle the most to meet them.

Arsenal have a distinct lack of English players in the squad while Manchester City's squad currently contains 32 senior players. Mancini will have to offload seven players or be paying wages to spectators, although at Manchester City that may not prove to be too much of an issue.

A team like Chelsea, just to name one of many, would also struggle to meet the new quota of home-grown players in their squad. Terry, Lampard, Cole, Turnbull and Mancienne are their only home-grown senior players. Ancelotti would only be allowed to register a further 17 foreign players so as to not breach the new rules.

One team who will not struggle under the new rules is Everton. David Moyes regularly promotes players through the youth academy, such as Rodwell or Gosling (although he has now moved to Newcastle), as well as having many English players in his first-team. This is an example of the what the FA probably wishes to achieve with these new laws.

There are other concerns that it will prevent young players being released on loan to gain first-team experience with clubs unwilling to send away young players they may need to call on at some point. The new rules are also certain to further inflate the price tags placed on home-grown players.

Despite the groans from some managers this remains a step in the right direction from the FA. Clubs will have to make sacrifices. Players will have to be sold or left in the cold. Teething problems for any like-minded initiatives are inevitable as is the resistance to them.

Ultimately, however, it will limit the amount of foreign players standing between young English players and first-team football. It encourages promotion from within and promotes investment in English players rather than a reliance on the grass-roots systems of Europe or South America to produce the high quality footballers. Other leagues across Europe have had similar restraints in place to support home-grown players for a while now and it seems England has finally followed suit.

When England slumped off the pitch having been humiliated 4-1 by a young German team the question was asked, 'What is the future of English football?' The 'golden generation' had come to a disheartening end and the search for a new generation of stars began.

The new squad rules are the first step in that search. It will take time, of course. Further steps will undoubtedly have to be taken. But through the confusion over the new rules and the criticism of them from the more effected Premiership managers, finally we have a positive new initiative to nurture and support young English talent.

It will be very interesting to see how the minimum quota for home-grown players impacts upon the rapidly approaching Premiership campaign. How noticeable will it be? How soon will English football reap the benefits of the new rules?

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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