The Foreigner Debate: Is the Home-Grown Player Rule Fit for Purpose?

An excellently drafted report on the UEFA Home Grown Player Rule (HGPR) was published recently which, along with Greg Dyke’s call-to-arms about the dearth of English talent has had the effect of refocusing peoples attention on the knotty issues of nationality, eligibility and the (relative lack of) success of the English national team.

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What are the HGPR Basics?

The UEFA HGPR was introduced for the 2006/07 season, and requires each team entering European competitions to name eight home grown players in their 25 man squad. The relevant stipulations can be found here in the Champions League and Europa League 2013-14 Article 18 regulations

The Premier League (PL) introduced its own HGPR in time for the start of the 2010/11 season and its definitions under PL rule A.1.81 can be found here . The Football League (FL) has similar regulations. There is an important distinction between the rules however. The UEFA HGPR stipulates that four of the designated squad players have to be ‘club-trained’ and four must also be ‘association-trained’. A club-trained player is defined as a player who regardless of his place of birth has been registered between the ages of 15 and 21 with his current club for a period of three entire seasons or 36 months. An ‘association-trained’ player fulfils the same criteria but with another club in the same association. The PL and FL HGPR does not distinguish between association and club trained meaning ‘home grown’ is defined as anyone registered with the English or Welsh Football Associations for three seasons or 36 months before a player’s 21st birthday.

Under both sets of rules out of the 25 players eligible to participate in PL, FL or UEFA club competitions there must be a minimum of eight home grown players (HGP). PL clubs submit a squad of 25 players to the PL after the transfer window has closed. Those players will then be eligible to compete in that season’s competition. Changes to the list can only be made in the January transfer window unless special permission is granted.

It may also be the case that there is a HGP transfer fee premium which adds additional cost to particular players who are more attractive because they can qualify as a HGP for the relevant PL and UEFA squad lists.

The HGPR and the PL squad list system made the headlines recently with Crystal Palace defender Florian Marange unhappy that he was not included in Crystal Palace’s 25 man list as a non-HGP. Perhaps that has more to do with poor transfer agreement drafting but the point remains that individuals who do not ‘make the cut’ for the squad list and do not qualify as an under 21 player are significantly constrained in the number of appearances they can make until usually January when clubs resubmit their squad lists after the transfer window shuts.

Practical Effects

Players like Gerrard, Giggs and Terry qualify as a HGPs but the rule may have the consequence of some home-grown places being left unfilled. It should be stressed however that all the rules permit an unlimited number of under 21 year old players (regardless of nationality) to supplement each 25 man squad.

Although Fabregas qualified as an English HGP he now cannot be placed in one of the HGP positions in the Barcelona squad submission to UEFA even though he was born in Spain and plays for the Spanish national team. As he trained with Arsenal during the relevant qualification period, his national eligibility under the UEFA HGPR becomes somewhat distorted.

Importantly, there is no UEFA or PL restriction on how many home-grown players must be selected in any starting team. Indeed it would be possible for no home-grown players to be in the match day squad of 18 and for a PL team having 17 non-home grown players and one foreign born under 21 player in their match day squad. This is in contrast to the FL HGPR (Rule 33.8) which ensures that clubs nominate a minimum of six HGP in a match day squad. This brings us to the fundamental question of what is the purpose of the HGPR?

The Rationale for the Rule

In the revealing report mentioned above, the authors explain that the HGPR was justified by UEFA as, among other things, encouraging youth development and competitive balance.. It was envisaged that developing a talented youth development structure could 1. counter the perceived lack of opportunity for domestic, young players to play in the first team and 2. save clubs significant sums on transfers or provide significant sums when one of a club’s players was subsequently sold. Similarly, competitive balance is said to be maintained and/or strengthened because the squad size only allows a certain number of established players to be registered for a particular competition. This has the additional effect of preventing the wealthiest clubs from hoarding the most talented players.

A Cloudy Picture

Some in the media may have confused the HGPR with the potential benefit of strengthening the chances of each MemberState’s national team. As the rule is not based, at least directly, on nationality, the rationale that the HGPR is beneficial for developing a nation’s next generation of players that can represent their county is perhaps a misnomer. Some have argued that the unintended side-effect of the HGPR has been to encourage clubs to recruit even younger players from across the globe so that they subsequently qualify as a HGP. There may be then less opportunity for domestically born youth players to play. This at present does not however seem to be borne out from some recent PL statistics that state:

  • 96% of boys registered at PL academies are British (that is aged 8-18); and
  • 90% of 16-18 year old boys at the PL Academies are British.

Conclusion

Whatever the answer, the debate about youth development in this country will continue with an FA committee looking into this thorny topic. Issues such as feeder clubs, quotas, the Elite Player Performance Plan  and the national team performance will be discussed at length. One question that strikes me is why there is a relative dearth of domestic players that look abroad for footballing opportunities. Domestic players may need to broaden their horizons and see opportunity beyond the UK which could in turn lead to a stronger, broader talent pool for the national team.

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