In part two of our in-depth look at homegrown player rules in China and Europe, Mailman explores the wider influences behind these regulations and how the composition of a league’s playing staff can impact upon its national teams performance.
Regardless of quotas for the number of ‘homegrown’ players required in each squad, the makeup of starting XIs across all European leagues is undoubtedly becoming increasingly more international. According to transfermarkt.com, last season’s Premier League witnessed a record low of just 33.1% of registered players holding English nationality. Though comfortably the lowest of Europe’s top leagues – the second lowest being Italy with 47.9%, before Germany with 50.1% and Spain boasting 64.8% – those numbers pale in comparison to China, whereby the limited five foreign player spots are utilised by every team in the league, translating to a huge 81% of homegrown players making up CSL squads. When the matchday ‘3+1’ rule is taken into consideration, the starting homegrown figure increases to 87%.
However, looking at European leagues, and the varying rules around foreign imports across the continent’s various leagues; the issue of player and national team development in the face of external influences such as commercial pressures and the results-above-all nature which now defines modern football, becomes much more complex. Add in to this the wider overarching issues of politics and economics and the ideal model for success becomes even more opaque.
In Britain, the recent Brexit vote has cast doubts over the future eligibility of European nationals playing in the Premier League, as the UK maneuvers away from the European single market and the freedom of movement of EU nationals throughout the continent. This could well mean the implementation of the kind of regulations and work permit requirements that currently exist for non-EU players across the board, and would have significant ramifications on the number of foreign imports plying their trade in the Premier League. The likes of French internationals, Anthony Martial, Morgan Schneiderlin, Yohan Cabaye and N’Golo Kanté for example would no longer be eligible for a work permit as none have made the 45% or more appearances for their country required. The ruling would also impact upon younger players coming into the academies of Premier League clubs and becoming ‘homegrown’ by the age of 21, as in the case of Cesc Fàbregas, who joined Arsenal aged 16.
Despite representing their country at Euro 2016, a number of high-profile internationals would fail to meet the requirements to obtain a work permit in the UK.
In a similar vein, the CFA’s rule change implemented at the very beginning of 2016, stated that players from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan would no longer count towards a side’s domestic squad contingent. This brought about a sudden spike in CSL and League 1 sides signing up players from these regions before the January 1st deadline, but the question remains – are these individuals better than the domestic players they have replaced?
Considering the stringent regulations around Chinese players and the relatively shallow pool of elite level talent in the CSL, this has served only to overinflate the domestic transfer market, with vast sums now bandied about for homegrown players who have in many cases only just begun to show their promise. The transfers of Zhang Lu, Zhao Xuri and Sun Ke for a reported combined total of over 206 million RMB – albeit all to the free spending Tianjin Quanjian – in the winter transfer window served to encapsulate this new hyper-valuation of Chinese players. But while the top players in China are so overpriced, clubs in Europe are understandably increasingly reluctant to look towards China in their recruitment drive when considering the asking prices of relatively untested Chinese players.
So what does this all mean for the development of homegrown players both in China and throughout the world? Whilst the England national team continues to underwhelm on the international stage, it is tempting to make the assumption that the Premier League’s meagre domestic headcount is a major factor stifling the progress of the Three Lions. Incumbent FA Chairman, Greg Dyke has certainly intimated as much with his suggestion to increase the number of homegrown players in Premier League squads from eight to 12, mirroring the Bundesliga’s own ruling. Given the recent dominance of Die Mannschaft, and the conveyor belt of star names making it into the Spanish squad it would be tempting to assume that the respective 50% and 58% homegrown proportions bear a direct correlation to the strength of the national teams.
Nevertheless, that would be far too easy an assumption to make, particularly when taking into consideration the CSL’s 81% homegrown contingent, and current 81st position in the FIFA world rankings. Certainly there are mitigating factors here in that the development of Chinese professional football is much further behind that of its European counterparts, with the professional league system itself only implemented in 1994 and since blighted by scandal.
However, another factor to consider is the quality of imports taking up those limited number foreign player positions. The top 10 most expensive signings in CSL history have all been made within the last 18 months, and looking at the increasingly high profile of these players, it would appear the money is being spent on genuine talent.
Nonetheless, talent without guidance will always go to waste; it is therefore significant that the recent influx of foreign coaches arriving in the CSL come with a great deal more experience and esteem than at any point in domestic footballing history. Whereas just three years ago Marcelo Lippi stood out as the marquee CSL manager; the likes of Alberto Zaccheroni, Gregorio Manzano, Mano Menezes, Felix Magath, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Sven-Göran Eriksson have all plied their trade in China within the last year. While it is far too early to witness any discernible impact upon the overall standard of the Chinese game, the signs are certainly encouraging. Furthermore the government’s ‘football reform and development programme’ has already seen 60 promising local coaches enlisted for a three-month summer development programme at Bournemouth University, and this type of footballing education will ultimately benefit the swathes of homegrown players developing their game within the Chinese footballing pyramid.
What is clear more than anything is that the overall level of the Chinese domestic game is improving; with Guangzhou Evergrande the two-time reigning champions of Asia and – despite the Canton club’s surprise early elimination from the competition – two clubs, Shanghai SIPG and Shandong Luneng through to the quarter finals of this year’s edition. Whereas these immediate improvements may well be thanks in no small part to the high-quality foreign additions to recent CSL squads, with these playing and coaching imports guiding the progress of the broadly young (according to transfermarkt.com, the average age of all CSL players is a little over 26 years old) and developing 81% of homegrown players, the decision makers behind China’s stringent homegrown regulations can be confident in their plans for the future.