Whilst posting a status on Facebook last week that was intended to merely have a cheap laugh at the expense of United fans in the wake of City’s 3-0 derby win at Old Trafford, something unintentionally ground my gears.
The post was a link to the article in the Manchester Evening News that showed how the Reds’ starting XI in the game cost more to assemble that the Blues’, the club that football fans with an embarrassingly narrow mind will have you believe are the only ones that spend serious money and are generally ruining football. But that’s for a different blog post entirely.
One of the United fans that took my bait threw a couple of points back at me. But it was one in particular that really struck a chord: the “well we’ve got more English players than you” argument.
It’d be a valid enough point if those English players were world beaters. Alas, they aren’t.
It would also carry some weight if all those English players were products of United’s academy. Again, they aren’t.
I found it difficult to find the right place to start with this, so I’ve tried breaking down it into a couple of areas.
For a kick off, why is having lots of English players seen as the morally correct thing to do? Yes, nurturing local talent in academies should be something that all clubs should strive to achieve. In my personal opinion clubs should have a quota limiting the amount of players they bring in from abroad and into their academies.
But why play them in your first team for the sake of it? Take the likes Joe Hart or Wayne Rooney. Both City and United identified these players at Shrewsbury and Everton respectively as they could see that they had the potential to be great players in the future.
Rooney’s rise was quicker, whereas Hart’s stock rose during a loan spell at Birmingham. He established himself as City’s number one during his first game back up the M6.
Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley- they’re woefully average. They play Premier League, Champions League and international football collectively week in, week out, and have done so for a number of years now. Have they developed into players that could get into the best sides in Europe? No, they haven’t.
So why play them? And more importantly, why use them to boast about their nationality? If United had five players of Rooney’s quality, then great; several players that are not only English but that are also world class players, capable of standing toe to toe with their Spanish and German counterparts.
Cleverley is perhaps the exception in the above trio. Not because of his quality (because he really is as average as the others), but because he came through United’s academy.
The midfielder showed potential in the youth teams and then on loan at Wigan, a bottom half Premier League side at the time. By all means bring him back and give him a go. But why keep playing him if he hasn’t really got any better? Why settle for second best? City tried it with Adam Johnson. He looked great at the start, didn’t develop into the player he perhaps should of done and was rightly sold. He’s now putting in average performances for struggling Sunderland.
Smalling and Jones have more to answer for because they were bought by United for heavy fees. The former cost £7 million from Fulham (£1 million more than Vincent Kompany cost City), whilst the latter cost an eye watering £16.5 million from Blackburn! Just let those numbers sink in for a minute.
For their considerable cost, are they the very best players in their position? No. Are they ever likely to be worth their fees? Very doubtful.
So why should clubs spend over the odds for average players purely on the basis of nationality? Wilfried Zaha, a player with zero top flight experience, cost United one million more than Jesus Navas cost City in summer of 2013, a player of the same position but with World Cup and European Championship winners medals in his cabinet.
If an English player is good enough, he’ll get noticed. And he will cost a fair whack, as Rooney did. But they’d be worth it; they’d be good players even if they weren’t English.
Pablo Zabaleta cost City £5 million. If City attempted to bid for someone like Kyle Walker from Spurs right now, how much we he cost? Would he be worth it? Absolutely not. But if you were more concerned of attempting to claim a nonsensical moral high ground based on his nationality…
But I’m not interested. I care most about my club and our success. Of course, as a proud Englishman, I’d love a successful English side, but not at the expense of City.
Giving young English players first team opportunities is important yes, but they need to have that level of natural ability that you simply cannot develop with minutes on the pitch. Otherwise what’s the point.
So the question isn’t why have City got just a handful of English players in their squad, but why has a club like United got a squad filled with very average ones?
Until players like Phil Jones and Chris Smalling cost a fraction of the likes of Vincent Kompany, arguably one of, if not, the best players in Europe in their position, no club should be questioned for having more foreigners in their team.
The problem isn’t clubs like City. The problem is a lack of talent at grassroots level. When it improves, City will have more English players in their team and United will have better English players in their team.
As long as the Reds’ languish in mid-table, their ‘English player’ moral high-ground is meaningless.