At United Gary Neville, and Paul Scholes progressed to the first team a decade or so ago and since then Wes Brown and Kieran Richardson are about it I believe as far as Englishmen at Old Trafford are concerned. Of course they also have Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith but they cost about the same amount in total as Wenger spends over three or four seasons. So although the first two at least would be desirable they were distinctly unaffordable. Liverpool fare little better, or course they have supreme home-grown talents in Gerrard, Carragher and now Fowler returned to the fold and have more recently acquired the mighty Crouch. But can you name any others Scousers at Anfield?
Tottenham have quite a few Englishmen but other than Ledley King I think you'll find that their principle English players such as Robinson, Murphy, Defoe, Dawson, Jennas, Carrick and Gardener have all been bought in. So what exactly have any of these other leading clubs done for English football when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actually developing young English players? Bolton, another top side, have Nicky Hunt and Kevin Nolan whilst they've bought in Ian Walker and Kevin Davies but who else do you see flying the flag at the Reebok?
So it seems that none of the top sides are developing English players to meaningful degree which makes the Sun's recent league table of Englishmen at Premiership clubs a meaningless pile of shite. Just where is the value in having 12 Englishmen in your squad if you are struggling in the relegation zone as Birmingham clearly are. Will anyone complain bitterly if and when 12 more English players are taken down to a lower level of league football?
Arsenal of course only have Ashley Cole and the Bosnam transferred Sol Campbell so quite clearly we must be castigated by an all knowing prat like Taylor. Elsewhere at the Club we have the home grown Ryan Smith and Kerrea Gilbert coming through plus the recently purchased Theo Walcott. These then are the current Englishmen who have made it to Arsenal's current first team or youngsters coming through. But with twenty internationals in our current squad and a team that has finished top or very close to the top of the pile over the last decade it's a struggle for any nationality to break into the first team. So why do we have a paucity of Englishmen at our Club and are we failing the country by favouring foreign nationals?
The answer is a simple one, take a look around the Premiership and ask yourself where the following players learnt their trade. They may never have been good enough to play for Arsenal or they may now be past their prime but off the top my head I can list the following ex Arsenal English players: Justin Hoyte on a season's loan to Sunderland. Ray Parlour up at Boro. Matthew Upson, Pennant and Gray all at Brum, David Bentley at Blackburn, Jay Bothroyd and Jerome Thomas at Charlton, Kevin Campbell at WBA and Andy Cole at Manchester City. You will note that this list includes at least three individuals who have bemoaned their lack of chances at Highbury but who in truth were just flash geezers who lacked the necessary discipline for true top flight football or were just plain flash without delivering the goods. Pennant has all the ability required but is still acting like a jerk at Birmingham and even trying the patience of Steve Bruce. Did Pennant benefit form training with the Henrys, Bergkamps and Ljungbergs of this world, you bet your arse he did. But could Arsene alter the mind-set of the stupid little car-wrecking piss-head. No. Bentley wanted to live the flash car life-style before he'd even earned the right to even feature in our first team. He's been disciplined at both Norwich and Blackburn since, so were Arsenal wrong to let such a classy player go? Others such as Bothroyd were kicked out for being the big I am and throwing his shirt at Don Howe for daring to substitute him. So the bottom line is that Arsenal's English players may be good enough for Birmingham but just how well are the Brummies doing in Europe this season?
Top Clubs need top players and their nationality is immaterial. When the entire footballing world watched Arsenal take on Real Madrid they didn't see Frenchmen, Spaniards, Brazilians, English, Dutch, Swedes, Italians, Cameroons, Swiss or any other nationality of players, they saw footballers in white or red shirts. They didn't even notice whether the players were black white or khaki, what they saw were great players playing great football for great Clubs. It's what the world's top Clubs have to do to remain the top Clubs. International football is merely a jingoistic irrelevance and the level of international football is now far lower than that of Club football. Could Spain beat Juve, could German beat Bayern, Could England beat the Chavs and quite frankly do we care?
I'm sure that Arsenal would have far more Englishmen playing in the squad if it wasn't for the current bizarre ruling regarding catchment areas for English players. If Arsenal's extensive scouting system spots a player in Carlisle we can't sign him because he's not in our catchment area. I believe the rules currently state, and please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong or if the rule has changed, that youngsters have to live within half an hour of Highbury. So Arsenal now have the limited catchment area within England where we are free to pick up all the local Londoners we like providing other London teams don't grab them first. Do you have any idea how many playing fields in the London area have been concreted over? Would a kid from, say Plymouth, ever be developed as effectively locally as he would with a top Club. Quite. Had this rule been in place twenty years ago then presumably Beckham could not have learnt his craft at Old Trafford. Arsenal are of course free to scout the rest of the world for talent which includes the other 24 countries of the European Union whose players all have equal rights when it comes to playing for any Club in Europe. So what do you think Arsenal should do? Specialise in a small catchment area or trawl the world searching for world class talent. It's a no brainer isn't it!
Despite this Arsenal have a great production line of decent English players. Go lower down the Leagues and you'll find dozens more non-Premiership that made it through the Arsenal academy and went on to make successful livings in the lower leagues despite not being retained by Arsenal. Men like Dave Livermore who captain's Millwall and has played well in excess of 200 games for them. Stars like Steve Sidwell at Reading who may also make it to the Premiership by the long route. There are dozens of players earning a living elsewhere in lower league and non-league football most of whom didn't even graduate to Arsenal's reserve team but will Gordon Taylor thank the Club for raising the levels of lower league football. Of course he won't.