Gareth Southgate SOS: 'We need more players' - English starters in the Premier League now at an all-time low

Sam Wallace
Gareth Southgate has called on Premier League clubs to address the problem - REUTERS

Gareth Southgate has sounded a severe warning to the Premier League that the numbers of English players in their teams have fallen so low that future England managers could have as little as 15 per cent of the top-flight to choose from.

Southgate said there was a “big danger” that the trend of falling numbers threatened the future of the national team unless clubs change approach.

The Football Association says this season numbers of English qualified players [EQP] in Premier League starting XIs fell to their lowest number since its record began, currently at 30 per cent for across the league and 19.9 per cent among the big six.

Those figures for the 2018-2019 season include Ben Foster, James Milner and Jamie Vardy, all  retired from international football and so unavailable for selection.

Southgate, speaking ahead of the start of Nations League final four next month, which England are the bookmakers’ favourites to win, that now - from a position of relative strength was the best time to change England's future.

England’s enjoyed their best World Cup since 1990 last summer, and won a Nations League group including Spain and Croatia. 

Southgate said: “The big concern for me is this graph continues to fall away and that we end up in ten years' time with an England manager who has got 15 per cent of the league and why wouldn't that happen? Because it has dropped 15 per cent in the last seven or eight years, so there's no sign of that being arrested because more money coming in. That is a big danger for us.

Callum Hudson-Odoi made his debut for England this season despite rarely featuring for Chelsea Credit: AP

“The first thing we’ve got to do is arrest the slide. We have to stop that graph slipping. Because it isn’t correct to say we’re not developing good players. I think that’s really important.”

The FA is pursuing a Brexit deal with the Premier League which will reduce the number of non-homegrown players in the 25-man team squads to 13, from 17, the current quota. In return, when it comes to foreign nationals, the current European Union work permits will be extended worldwide. So far, the two bodies have not been able to reach an agreement.

Southgate said he believed the solution would work for both sides. “If Brexit happens, there will have to be change - whether people want it or not - around work permits. It won't be freedom of movement for European players, so that landscape will change. I think the proposals that the FA have put forward have tried to balance keeping the success of the Premier League and recognising that is a product that works for us as a country.

Sancho has been superb at Borussia Dortmund after leaving Man City to ensure he got game time Credit: ACTION PLUS

“But we saw 40-odd million people or more enjoying last summer and the impact of the national team and what that can bring. We are trying to achieve something that not many other countries have had the chance to do: a successful league and a successful national team. That's a huge challenge.”

Formerly the England Under-21s manager, and the FA’s head of elite development, Southgate has long maintained English talent will be good enough, given the chance. “The fact that we can see a high level of players coming into the seniors already, success at European club level with the junior teams, success with the national teams over the last couple of years … there are signs there that are players are as good as any around the world.”

He said that English players moving overseas was not always an answer to the lack of opportunities in the Premier League. Jadon Sancho’s impact in the Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund has thus far been the exception rather than the norm. The England manager could joke that familiar rivals would be plotting their own solutions to poor World Cup performances and the English game had to be honest with itself too.

“When things are going well is a good time to review it, and keep improving. Not to sit back, either as a league or a national federation and think, ‘Ok, it’s all going well’. Because those bloody Germans, they will be doing stuff! They’re out looking at how they get better.” He added: “We have got to make those changes and keep improving while we’re in the position of strength, not wait until we are six or seven years on.”