After England’s elimination against Iceland in the European Championships, the post-mortem on the state of English football is well underway.
England played against four teams who spent much of the matches defending; they kept the ball well, but struggled to create enough good chances to convert into goals. Both tactical system and individual talent were problems. The former can be changed with a new manager, the latter cannot.
But just how deficient is our talent?
‘Talent’ is basically undefinable, but we can find some proxies for it. One of those is the game-time they get; not only does this reflect quality but it’s also a way that players learn and develop.
Take the last starting XI from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and England and look at how much each player played in each season from ages 16-23 (based on their age at the start of the season, so 2016-17 is Kane’s “23-year old” season). By the 22- and 23-year old seasons, virtually all of the players in each nation’s starting XI were club starters, defined by making 20+ league appearances. I’m also assuming that players like Dele Alli or Joshua Kimmich who are club starters at age 20 will continue to be starters in their future seasons.
It’s at ages 19-21 that a gap opens for England. By their 21-year old season, Spain, Germany, and France’s starting XI’s were all starters, Italy had 6 and England had 8. For their 20-year old season, Germany’s starting XI had 10 club starters, Spain 9, France and Italy 8, and England 6. For their 19-year old season, it was Germany with 9, Spain 8, France and Italy 5, and England 4.
Interestingly, for their 18 year-old seasons, England was in the lead with 6 club starters; Spain, Germany, and France with 3; and Italy with 2.It’s clearly a small and not necessarily representative sample, but the gap between Germany, France, and Spain from Italy and England seems significant, and this apparently being the worst Italian team (or should that be ‘collection of players’) in quite some time.
Now, it should be noted that this doesn’t adjust for the quality of the team a player is starting for and it could also be the case that a player isn’t counted as a starter because they’re making a handful of appearances at a big club rather than lots of appearances in a lower league. Maybe England are producing talented youngsters (those 6 club starters at 18), but aren’t developing them well after that.
Anyway, given that this has a few holes in it as a method for gauging how well England produces players, let’s use another.
Take the starting XIs of the top four teams in the top four European leagues (Italy, England, Germany, Spain, plus PSG who are the only French team to deserve to be among that group). The starting XIs are the ones given by WhoScored, based on their WhoScored ratings, which isn’t perfect but is a useful way of streamlining the process.This is key because this is a representation of the pool of players the national team is able to pick from. England just scrape together a starting line-up from the best clubs in Europe. Spain and Germany could put two together. 4 of England’s 11 come from Leicester City too, who, personnel-wise, are unlikely to finish in the top 4 ever again.
England’s problem, player-wise, is not the amount of foreign players in the Premier League. There are plenty of other leagues that English players could go and play in if they were good enough. The point is that they’re not.
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