Could Brexit help the England football team avoid future Iceland humiliations by limiting foreign players in the Premier League?

Joe Hall
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England v Iceland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016
Could Brexit help prevent further humiliation for England (Source: Getty)

The path has become well worn: England fail at a national tournament, the game's soul-searching begins and proposals for reform are put forward.

Limiting the number of foreign players in English football to allow room for home grown talent to prosper has become a favoured option for Football Association chairman Greg Dyke.

Last week he responded to Britain's vote to leave the European Union by suggesting it could instigate such an upsurge in young English players being given an opportunity in the Premier League.

Read more: The effect Brexit will have on the Premier League's approach to the transfer market

"One of my concerns in my period as chairman has been the decline in the opportunities for kids at the bigger clubs to get through and into the first team — very few make it," he said.

"If anything happens that gives them better chances, then I welcome it."

Whether Brexit will actually result in "better chances" for English talent depends on the level of free movement for European workers into the UK agreed in exit negotiations — a decision to join the European Economic Area (EEA) would likely lead to little change on clubs' abilities to buy players from the continent.

But even if the Premier League dials down on its characteristic cosmopolitanism for a new-look nativism, there is little clarity about what affect that would have on the England national team.

Proponents for quotas on the number of foreign players in English clubs' squads point to the success of Spain, Germany, Italy and France whose national teams are supported by strong national leagues with a larger percentage of home-grown talent.

A study by the CIES Football Observatory, a respected academic research group based in Switzerland, found that 66.4 per cent of players in the Premier League were foreign at the beginning of last season — the highest proportion in Europe.

In contrast, the percentage of foreign players stood at 57.9 per cent in Italy's Serie A, 50.1 per cent in the German Bundesliga, 41.6 per cent in Spain's La Liga and 33.9 per cent in Ligue 1 in France.

Read more: Premier League transfer bills could swell following Brexit

Dyke's own 2014 FA commission into the issue found that there were only 66 — 18 from top six clubs — who were then playing in over 50 per cent of top flight minutes compared to over 100 in Germany, Italy, Spain and France.

At the same time, 58 per cent of non-EU players bought by Premier League clubs did not play again in the year after their arrival.

If such average foreign players are being picked ahead of Englishmen, the argument goes, how can England expect its players to develop?

While Brexit presents English football with a potential solution to that conundrum, the result may not necessarily end the timeline of hurt and humiliation at major tournaments.

A 2014 report into the issue from the Adam Smith Institute titled "Sweet FA — Why foreign player crackdowns hurt English football" found that there was no correlation between the amount of minutes played by natives in Europe's major leagues and their national team's success, and no link between the amount of minutes played by Englishmen in 2004 and the national team's performance 10 years later.

Simply reducing the number of foreign nationals in the Premier League may not then be a magic bullet to preventing future icebergs sinking the England ship.

Russia, arguably one of the worst teams at Euro 2016, boast of a relatively rich domestic league largely monopolised by its wealthiest clubs who often flatter to deceive in Europe. Sound familiar?

In 2005 Russia introduced quotas limiting teams to seven foreign players in every starting XI, a limit reduced to five by 2010 and now known by the "6+5 rule".

Yet since reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2008, the national team has foundered. They failed to progress from the group stage at three major tournaments, results in qualifying and friendlies, with the team failing to better a 70 per cent win ratio recorded in 2007, and they have struggled to unearth new talent — Russia had the second oldest team at Euro 2016 behind the Republic of Ireland.

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