By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 16, 2015) US Soccer Players – Football Association chairman Greg Dyke fully understands his role as the head of English soccer. It’s in no small part creating an environment to produce a better England National Team. With the Premier League and a professional club structure that’s the largest in Europe, that should be one of the best drivers toward that goal. Instead, it’s the Premier League that’s part of the problem.
Dyke’s Football Association sanctions the Premier League. By design, the breakaway that turned the old First Division into the Premier League in the early 90s was just that. A breakaway from the Football League as sanctioning body replaced by the Football Association itself. That might not mean much to anybody outside of England, but when we’re talking about the oldest soccer league in the world it was a sizeable shift.
Still, regardless of what organization sanctions the Premier League, the role of the league remains at issue.
Topflight English soccer doesn’t exist to improve the national teams of other countries. t’s a byproduct of having such a successful league that the money and opportunity is there for some of the world’s best players. At the same time, it’s still an open conversation as to whether or not topflight English soccer exists to improve its own country’s national team. Whenever a Premier League club fields a foreign starting eleven, it’s a pragmatic statement that they don’t.
Fair enough from a foreign perspective. England is a finished product as one of the teams that is a global soccer power. That’s true for club and country. Playing in the toughest region to qualify, England hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1994. They have players that are world superstars. Their clubs are some of the biggest brands in soccer.
What England hasn’t done is win enough to satisfy the FA itself, much less the country at large. For Dyke’s FA, part of the blame is squarely on the Premier League itself with some left over for England’s work permit policies. The FA can’t do anything about European Union players, but they can stop what they see as a loophole for how non-EU players get work permits to play soccer in England.
Though work permit issues have stopped American players from signing with English clubs, the process is easier than the FA would like. That’s especially true when an English club appeals a denied work permit. The FA’s solution is to change the rules.
Right now, it’s the point of the FA raising this issue that’s more important than the FA’s proposed changes. What the FA wants is a pipeline for English players running through the Premier League. What that requires is not just a reinterpretation of the Premier League’s purpose, but what any topflight means in the contemporary era of soccer.
Closing borders to foreign players was a hallmark of some of the major European leagues in a bygone era. Now, it’s almost silly to think that any league can afford to close itself off completely. One of the criticisms of England is too many Premier League players, but that’s not the FA’s primary complaint. Instead, it’s the quality of choice the Premier League is providing.
For Dyke’s FA, the current version of the Premier League is incurring a heavy opportunity cost by not fully developing enough English soccer players. That’s a criticism that’s not unique to England, but the position of the Premier League as the most popular soccer league in the world complicates the issue.
If the English Premier League accepts a mandate that it should improve the options for England, the league changes. Instead of a cosmopolitan league blending styles even at clubs with no chance of competing for the title, it becomes something else. Development for elite National Teams is hardly the same as holding open places for domestic players like we’ve seen in MLS and the original NASL, but it’s a different concept of what the Premier League should be.
Different might not necessarily mean noticeably better or worse, but it’s altering a game plan that pushed the Premier League to the top of the domestic league table in the view of a worldwide audience. Even when talking about players that cost less than $15m and appear in 30% of international games in their home country, both parts of the FA’s proposed changes to the work permit regulations, that’s a considerable risk to take.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson: