Who Needs Foreigners? The Premier League, That’s Who

By on September 6, 2009

Wenger and Bergkamp

Let’s be honest about it, and this is why the xenophobia really annoys me, the Premier League is what it is because of foreigners. And not just on the pitch, but off of it as well. Before foreigners began coming to play in England in the mid-to-late 90s and practically took over in the early to middle part of this decade, England could only look on Italy and Spain and, at times, Germany with envy.

By 2002-03, England had only ever had a side reach the semifinals three times, all Manchester United. Since the final stage of foreign “invasion,” England have “produced” 13 of the 24 semifinalists including multiple appearances by each of the big 4. Of course there was the great run by English clubs in the 70s and 80s which saw Liverpool win 4 times and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest twice, including a stretch of five years when only either side won the old European Cup. But that was not the Champions League.

In the modern game, England were not able to compete on the European stage until they opened the league up to foreigners. This season there are 337 foreign players from 66 different countries registered to play in the Premier League. That works out on average to about 17 per side accounting for almost 70% of the entire league. In 1992, there were 11.

The fact of the matter is that England does not produce enough footballers of a consistently high quality to sustain an entire league like Italy and to some extent Spain. Yes, I know Spain has a bunch of foreigners but, with less than 200 foreign players, the majority of players are home-grown. Something that hasn’t been true of the Premier League for years. Let’s look at the numbers (based on the 2006-07 season, after which the numbers will have risen):

Percentage of foreign players in all top 4 teams (and in the league overall):

  • Germany 48% (50%)
  • Spain 48% (38%)
  • Italy 48% (30%)
  • France 34% (34%)
  • ENGLAND 73% (59%)

That is a tremendous difference. England’s overall lack of quality compared to the other major countries is evident in the national team. They are currently struggling to find players for more than one position. England has no world-class striker or keeper. They have also hurt in very recent times for a wide player and a right-back. Spain, on the other hand, is spoiled for riches in regards to depth. The England team, while having a few superstars, is one injury crisis away from being mediocre. This is a direct result of English players not being good enough for their own league. That says something about the quality of the average English footballer. Most of them don’t go abroad to Spain or Italy because they don’t have the technical ability required for those leagues, not to mention an inflated value of self-worth.

Off the pitch, in the director’s box, board room, and dugouts, foreigners have transformed the Premier League into what it is. When was the last time a big 4 club had an English manager? I don’t even remember and can’t be bothered to look it up. The two greatest managers in the modern English game, who have done even more to change this league than the players, are Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, a Scot and a Frenchman. Even the teams closest to breaking into the top 4 last season do not have English managers as O’Neill is Irish and Moyes is Scottish.

But it’s not just about picking a side. Wenger almost single-handedly brought the Premier League into the future with his training and lifestyle management. At the time of Wenger’s transformation of Arsenal, United players were still smoking and eating and drinking like they were dockworkers, not professional athletes. To his credit, Fergie saw the writing on the wall far more quickly than any of the English managers and quickly snapped his team into good enough shape to win the treble in 1999 which included England’s first ever modern-day European champion. Let’s also not forget about the owners. Whether some of us like it or not, owners like Abramovich and the Arabs at City have changed the game as well, for better or worse, bringing more money into the English game and therefore better players and increasing parity.

Nevada Smith’s, NYC

And, finally, there are the fans. The Premier League has far more fans outside of England than they do inside and the same goes for the big clubs. There are far more Arsenal supporters in the USA, on the east coast even, than in London or even all of England. Also, it is only recently that the Premier League has received so much coverage here in the United States. Ten years ago, I used to have to drive almost two hours to New York City and pay $20 to watch Arsenal, if they were broadcast that week. Highlights were available irregularly on a semi-weekly basis. Newspapers were available two days after the fact for 8 times the price. My point is that it was hard to follow the club. Not only do some English supporters take what they have for granted, they also try to deny the title of “supporter” to those outside the UK. What is the difference between an Arsenal supporter from New York and one from Yorkshire?

When I go to watch Arsenal here in New York City, I am watching at a pub that is so packed with singing Gooners (see right) that people are waiting outside on line just for the chance to get in and watch the match. Also, I am not even close to being the only American Arsenal blog. There are a number of them, including 7am kickoff, which are well-written, thoughtful, insightful, and, most of all, their writers are as dedicated to the club as anyone. So the condescending attitude which some English supporters take towards foreign fans is ridiculous, especially towards us American supporters.

Through the years I have talked football, online as a moderator at The Gooner Forum or not, with 100s and 100s of people from six continents and I have found Americans who are very knowledgeable about Arsenal and football in general, while at the same time I have found English fans who had no clue what they were talking about. And far more shirt sales and merchandise money are made by the clubs outside of the little island than inside. Not to mention the many American Arsenal supporters who gladly spend a few thousand dollars just to get to London and watch one match. So, to dismiss foreign fans because their nationality somehow makes it impossible for them to understand the game or love the club, is just another way the xenophobia manifests itself.

All in all, the Premier League has been forged and continues to be absolutely propped up both on the pitch and off by foreigners. English supporters should be grateful, because if all the foreign players and managers picked up their things and left, if all the foreign owners who have spent the money to bring great players to England sold the clubs or even stopped spending money, and if all the foreign supporters stopped watching the Premier League on television and stopped buying the shirts, what would be left? At best, a slightly better version of the Championship. [digg=http://digg.com/soccer/Who_Needs_Foreigners_The_Premier_League_That_s_Who]



  1. GunnerX

    September 6, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I can remember back to the 80′s when English football was in the doldrums, unable to to complete with the so called ‘continental’ style of play, and having severe crown control problems. At the time, football in this country was relatively backward when compared to our European neighbors, and our boys seemed to lack the basic technical skills that most of the foreigners seemed to naturally possess.
    When the Sky money came along, the thinking was that the foreigners would ply their trade in the prem and the youngsters would watch and learn. We really need to have a more honest debate about the problems in English football, instead laying blame on others.

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 6:07 pm

      That is spot on, GunnerX. The problem isn’t with bringing in high-quality foreigners, which every domestic league needs, and which in the beginning worked wonders as you can see the differences that Cantona made at United and Bergkamp at Arsenal. The real problem is when mediocre foreigners are bought rather than playing young English players or even buying other English players of equal capability. Of course, this is a direct result of the insane over-valuation of English players.

      Why is Joleon Lescott worth 22m yet Kolo Toure, a player proven at the highest level that has won everything except a European Cup and played in a team that went 49 matches unbeaten, is only worth half that? That is insanity. So, in a very real way, the English players, and those managers willing to pay way over the odds for them, have created the situation where clubs would rather buy a foreigner of equal or even lesser ability for the half the price and, with football being the business that it is, who can blame them? There is no one to blame for that but the English players, managers, and agents.

  2. Davi

    September 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    The stupid thing is Arsenal are the only club seriously addressing the problems with the english players.
    Even the youngsters that dont quite make it at arsenal will have a significantly higher level of technical ability than most other english players of the same age. Gibbs and Wilshere will undoubtedly be two of England’s very best players in a few years, and theres a good chance simpson, randall, lansbury, hoyte, watt, thomas, bartley and others will be in an around the England squad.
    I think when these players comes through, other coaches in England will see what it takes to produce really good players, and things might change. Capello is clearly having a positive effect as well. The new style they are playing pushes the players to the limits of their technical ability, but it is true, 2 or 3 injuries will really ruin all that.

  3. Diaa

    September 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Well mate, first i would like to say that its great that your able to follow our Arsenal now more regular than before, so you able now to enjoy our entertaining football live and as it happens, as we all know that watching reruns of games isn’t that entertaining.

    I really enjoyed your article and the stats, and it is very interesting the amount of money pumped into the game these days, I just have one concern that bothers me a bit, that there are a lot of smaller side clubs that are not benifiting from this issue, and to me it rules out the whole fair play issue about football.
    In other words, some clubs can not afford to purchase players at the over rated prices they are being sold at these days.
    So i would like to see one day, that the transfer window opens every three or four years, and that would give a good chance for coaches to really show us their capabilities, instead of taking shortcuts and buying players to solve their puzzles.

    just a thought, what do you think???

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 6:02 pm

      I will tell you, Diaa, that I have been able to watch Arsenal on an almost weekly basis for 7 or 8 years now. It was mostly in the beginning when it was really hard. But it’s not about me. The fact is that alot of American supporters have had to actually put in more effort than switching on the TV to be able to follow their club yet they are dismissed as somehow not real supporters, by a few provincial idiots.

      Of course, the financial aspect of the game benefits teams with money. I don’t really see how that has anything to do with the article which addressed xenophobia (fear or dislike of foreigners) in England and football in particular.

      The small clubs, while not making a big dent in the Premier League’s top places, do play a bigger role than the big clubs in bringing through young English players. I’m thinking of MIddlesbrough and West Ham especially. How many players in the England national team actually came up through the youth system of a big 4 club? Ashley Cole, John Terry, and Steven Gerrard. The rest came up through clubs outside the top 4 and sometimes clubs in the bottom half. So in that sense, it is the smaller clubs that do the most for the English team.

      Thanks to all for reading and commenting.

      • Diaa

        September 6, 2009 at 6:13 pm

        i wasn’t commenting on your article mate, i was just giving my thoughts on your situation, as i lived in canada for a long time and wasn’t able to follow live games, now i’m a member of board in a football club in Egypt (and a gooner) so i thought it would be nice to speak to other gooners !!

      • ArsenalStation

        September 6, 2009 at 7:22 pm

        I understand that. So you know how hard it can be for some foreign fans to follow their club.

  4. Simon

    September 6, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Great article! Lets all be friends. We should not hate on each other, save that for Spurs! We all love Arsenal, that should bring us togheter not apart. Where we live and come from is irrelevant. That goes for players and mangers to.

    Proud Arsenal fan from Sweden.

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 7:25 pm

      Exactly, Simon. The Premier League has long since ceased being the English Premier League. Even though the stadiums happen to be in England and the teams retain the names of their original locales, the Premier League is truly a global league now.

      And I should point out that this attitude towards foreign fans is far less pronounced than towards foreign players and I did not mean to make it seem like it is huge problem. It is just something I have encountered in forum conversations and felt this was a good article to address it since it’s similar to the problem with foreign players’ treatment.

      For me, I don’t care where anyone is from… if you love Arsenal, follow the club, and know what you’re talking about then you are just as much a Gooner as anyone else.

  5. Sagar

    September 6, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Interesting article, grt read.
    I was born here in england but was brought up in kenya. I remember when i was a kid in kenya my dad used to rent match of the day 4m the local video store.it wld be 2 wks old and we already knew the score but damn we used to look forward to watchin all the action.this was the late 80s.and then in the early 90s a bar opened up that had a massive satellite dish and we started going there to watch matches! It was grt. All the banter we’d have with rival supporters and there’d be supporters of different teams nt just the “big 4″. Then in the mid 90s satellite dishes be reasonably affordable and we got one, now we were able to watch matches at home. Then i moved back to england and started going to matches. These days when i go back they get to choose which premier league they wana watch! We dnt get that here prolly coz of the 3 o clock saturday no football on tv law.
    Put quite simply the premier league is big because of the foreign following! If it werent for them this league would be nowhere!
    Any local supporters saying the foreigners are nt true supporters let me put forward 2 cases although sad and tragic shows how that foreigners are passionate about english football. Champions league semi final 2nd leg arsenal v man utd. Arsenal lost. An arsenal supporter commited suicide in nairobi kenya!
    care 2 last week man utd won against arsenal 2-1. A man utd fan celebrating drunk himself to death in kampala uganda.

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 7:32 pm

      Those are extreme cases but you are definitely right that there are many fans outside the UK that are just as passionate about the club and football as anyone in England. I think it makes those of us who have had to struggle and put in a lot of effort just to follow the club appreciate all the more.

      Last weekend, 9 of the 10 PL matches were available either live or on tape-delay here in the US. That is a major change from 10 years ago. I have access through the internet to MOTD, Sunday Supplement, Football Focus, etc… as well as all the English newspapers and their attendant podcasts. The only thing English supporters have in terms of media that we don’t is Sky Sports but I can get half that stuff online anyway. What I’m saying is that we now get all the information that native English fans do and since understanding and appreciating football is not a genetic trait, there is no reason to think that foreigners don’t understand or appreciate Arsenal or the game the same as English fans do.

  6. om

    September 6, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Well said ! All these US gooners are making me plan another trip :)

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 7:35 pm

      I have yet to make my first trip to London. One of the biggest regrets of my life was not having the means to be able to make it to Highbury. I used to have dreams about going there when I was younger. I am looking to make the trip finally this Spring.

      • Brett

        September 6, 2009 at 10:18 pm

        Definitely worthwhile. Highbury was a fantastic place, and Emirates is amazing in a different way. As an aside, while you’re over I highly advise taking one of the “Legends” tours of Emirates. We toured the grounds with Charlie George, who really made it a great deal of fun.

        I’m currently trying to get tickets to Man United at home in January for my next trip over. The better team will win this time around, I’m sure.

        • ArsenalStation

          September 6, 2009 at 10:32 pm

          I definitely plan on taking the tour. My first choice would be to get Charlie George but Bob Wilson or even John Radford would be fantastic, as well.

          • somali-gooner

            September 7, 2009 at 3:45 am


          • somali-gooner

            September 7, 2009 at 3:56 am

            iam arsenal fan for almost 13 years n i uset rist my life to watch arsenal games because were i use to live was one off the scarest place in the world mugdisho somalia i remember at that time i used to go to other vilages to watch arsenal n in the midle of nights i use to watk at the streats off mogdisho there was a war going on every vilages n death is nothing in mogdisho i didnt care all those stuff cuz i watched arsenal double winners 1998 so now im in u s a i got big sream hd tv… even thou im not english man but i lke england to win the world cub because they are all i know n all i fellow i just feel bad wen i hear hate stuff from the media we all human n we shine the english leage so be happy!!! goooner for life n this year we ganna win i hope so

  7. Charlie

    September 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Hey mate, great article some extremely valid points but I think from the mentality of the english fans and even the players (note john terry) that the xenophobic attitude is one which will always be around.

    I am a Gooner from Australia, and you would be surprised at how popular the premier league is. I have my mates who are Arsenal fans and we just cant get enough of the premier league.

    Just as an aside, im going to NYC during Christmas and would love to get amongst the crowd to watch an Arsenal game while im there, any suggestions on where to go? cheers

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 7:33 pm

      Charlie, you are more than welcome to come on down to Nevada Smith’s on 3rd Avenue & 11th Street and watch the match with as passionate and vocal a group of Gooners as you will see anywhere. That is the place in the picture at the bottom of the article.

  8. irfan

    September 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    spot on! no doubt theres great support in foreign lands.. here in kenya no one knows wats goin on in the local league, the prem is almost always wats ‘goin on’ on weekends, true passionate support..

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 7:46 pm

      Same here in the States. While I am a season-ticket holder for my local MLS club, I would say the majority of fans in this country watch the Premier League and don’t even watch the domestic league. I think there’s more than enough room for both here in the States especially considering our season runs over the summer so I get football all year long.

  9. Binha

    September 6, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Great article! I’m actually from Brazil, living in a rather small city, and I got really surprised one day when I found out that my neighbour supported Arsenal as well! (His brother supports Chelsea, but oh well, nothing is perfect – and at the beginning they had a tiny difficult with discussing football with a girl lol). What I mean is, just look at how Premier League supporters are spreading all over the world, and that something they should be really thankful for, as you wrote. I always hated this thing of “we’re English, we go to the stadium, we’re better fans”. Bollocks, there’s no such thing as that. I buy shirts, I watch almost every game even though the 3-hour difference can be a b1tch sometimes, I celebrate every goal (I actually scream a lot), I cry for Arsenal, so I don’t think everyone would have the right to say I’m not as much of a supporter cos I won’t go to the Emirates!
    Of course it bugs me, and I’m deeply upset with the fact that I’ve never had a chance and never will of going to Highbury, but that’s life. It’s not just for being the club I support, but everybody -regardless where they are living – should have the chance to watch Arsenal’s beautiful football. And I’m glad I can be a part of it. A very well done article indeed :)

    • ArsenalStation

      September 6, 2009 at 10:31 pm

      I know the feeling… my twin brother supports United.

  10. David

    September 7, 2009 at 3:18 am

    All your argument amounts to really is a justification for the globalisation and commercialisation of the English game. It contains entirely circular logic (the Premier League wouldn’t be the international phenomenon it is today without the input of international players, managers and investors – well, yes) and is a pretty self-serving statement from Arsenal’s perspective: the Premier League club that has invested in the development of local, English talent less than any other.

    It depends whether you want your national league to be a global commercial product, with success measured in Champions League progress and the bottom line; or whether you want it to be genuinely an English league, in this instance, in which English talent can be nurtured and brought on, with consequent benefits further down the line for the national team. Your argument that English players simply aren’t good enough is again circular: they aren’t at the moment because the investment is going in to buying ready-made talent from abroad, rather than in producing home-grown talent; and because, clearly, it’s going to be much harder for even the best domestic talent to break through into what has really become an international league in its own right.

  11. robert

    September 7, 2009 at 5:05 am

    The reason why there are no English players in the premierleague is because most English players are rubbish and overpriced. The only good ones are Ronney Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Ferdinand.

  12. al

    May 14, 2011 at 9:06 am

    thegay boy that wrote this article is so full of new world order bull,it makes me wretch,talking about t-shirt sales,what a wanker.americans wouldn’t
    understand cause their sports are all nigrs,back in the 7o’s the best players were scottish,and the game was a lot better,nevermind (quote)americans tend to be knowledgable about football but the english don’t have a clue(
    unquote)what a crock.you are obviously some young punk who knows nothing of the glory days of the english league.just another big mouthed american jumping on the arsenal band wagon.i know the type.probably never played the game either ,too fat.lol…

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