Gareth Southgate warns Premier League could soon be only 15% English

Sean Ingle


Gareth Southgate fears that only 15% of players in the Premier League will be eligible for England in a decade’s time unless clubs give more opportunities to home-grown players.

Southgate also urged English football not to become complacent amid the dominance of its clubs in Europe and, in a light-hearted quip, warned that the national side could be overtaken by the “bloody Germans” if people rested on their laurels.

The England manager spoke out after seeing data showing that only 30% of Premier League starting spots were filled by players eligible for England last season, compared with 33.2% in 2017-18.

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In one week between late November and early December 54 out of 220 top-flight starting spots were filled by English players – a record low since the Football Association began collecting stats in 2009-10. Only 19.9% of starting slots at the top-six clubs last season were filled by English players.

“We’ve got to arrest the slide,” Southgate warned. “Because it isn’t correct to say we’re not developing good players. There’s tremendous work going on at our academies.

“The big concern for me is this graph continues to fall away and that we end up in 10 years’ time with an England manager who has got 15% of the league to choose from. Why would that not happen? It is a big danger for us.

“I won’t be in this job forever and you want there to be a good pool of English players ready to come on board.”

When it was put to Southgate that, if an English player was good enough, he would succeed regardless, he shook his head. “That’s not quite right. Some of the lads are getting through and it’s by chance rather than it’s been plotted,” he said. “With a Phil Foden there has been a clear plan at Manchester City this season. But we need more of those sorts of opportunities for young players.”

Southgate’s solution is for “grown-up conversations” between the Premier League, Football Association and others involved in the game. And he is clear about the potential consequences if the issue is ignored. “We can’t sit back, either as a league or a national federation, and think: ‘OK, it’s all going well and so we sit,’” he said. “Because those bloody Germans, they will be doing stuff. They’re out looking at how they get better.

“We have got to keep improving from a position of strength, not wait until we are six or seven years on from this. It’s a good idea to review things when the momentum is positive.”

Currently Premier League teams are permitted up to 17 non-homegrown players in a 25-man squad – a figure the FA wants cut to 13 to help English players. Another factor is the impact of Brexit, which Southgate conceded could also help English players in one respect – but hurt them in another.

“Brexit is offering an opportunity because there will have to be change – whether people want it or not – around work permits,” he acknowledged. “But we shouldn’t also ignore the fact that we’ve got some of the top coaches in the world at our clubs. They’re helping not only to develop players but to set an example for younger coaches.

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“We suffered for years by never looking over the Channel to see what was going on and now we have an open market that has proved a success. So I’m always mindful of the balance of not being too critical. But, equally, we have players that are good enough and who are not getting a chance.”

On Thursday he named an initial 27-man squad for next month’s Nations League tournament in Portugal, and with doubts remaining over Harry Kane’s fitness Southgate said Raheem Sterling was in the running to be captain, with the semi-final against the Netherlands set to be his 50th cap for his country. “Raheem is in that leadership group now and he has fulfilled that brilliantly over the last 12 months in particular,” he added. “You can see his maturity now with what had happened to him on and off the pitch. I think he is relishing that. He has risen to that challenge and embraced it and I wouldn’t have any hesitation in making him captain if that was the right thing.”

Southgate said choosing his squad for the Nations League had not been easy. “I’ve got to leave players out to put them in. People talked about Jack Grealish last time but is that leaving out Callum Hudson-Odoi or Jadon Sancho to put Grealish in? I’m reminded of the Spanish manager a couple of years ago who said: ‘Every time I pick a squad I commit a crime because of the players I leave out.’”