In football at the moment many players at the top clubs often complain about a lack of starts due to squad rotation and clubs stockpiling talent. However, this season some players face the prospect of not playing at all.
On September 1st, the day after the transfer window shuts, all Premier League clubs must submit a 25-man squad to the Premier League. These squads must contain at least eight ‘home-grown‘ players. Teams can also play as many under-21’s as they wish from outside the squad. These rules do not apply to Cup or European competitions.
A ‘home-grown’ player is any player who has spent at least three years at an English/Welsh club between his 16th and 21st birthday. These players do not necessarily have to be British. If a team doesn’t have eight home-grown players then they have to name a smaller squad of players, one less for each ‘home-grown’ spot not filled, i.e., if the club only has 6 home-grown players, they can only name a squad of 23 etc.
Other than those on the 25-man squad list, the only layers who can play are players under the age of 21. Lat season, Portsmouth used a whopping 33 players and the league average was 27, with an average of 12 home-grown players per team and 7 under-21’s.
The rules were put in place to encourage Premier League teams to use younger home-grown players and to prevent teams from loading up their squads with expensive signings. These rules were agreed last year but it looks like a lot of teams haven’t planned properly and are going to be caught cold.
This leaves clubs with a real problem. Effectively, there will be a one-in-one-out policy regarding transfers with limited squad space available. However, some players that clubs will be looking to move on will be on huge contracts and be reluctant to give that money up in order to move. This means clubs may well have to send players on loan and still be stuck with subsidising their wages.
As it stands, only Manchester United and Spurs are going to be able to fill their eight home-grown quotas with senior players. Arsenal needs just one more. For some of the other top clubs though, there is a problem.
Liverpool for example only has five homegrown players over the age of 21 (Gerrard, Carragher, Cole, Damien Plessis and Johnson). They do have players under 21 to pad the squad out but they could do with signing some home grown players and fast, making the impending sale of Emiliano Insua strange. As it stands Chelsea only have five home-grown over 21’s (Cole, Lampard, Terry, Ross Turnbull and Scott Sinclair) but have an aging squad so will have to move players on if they want to make any new signings and may not be able to reinforce their squad with game-ready young players if there are injuries to senior players.
The big losers could well end up being Manchester City. Their summer policy of ‘buy every single good player we can’ is exactly what these rules were brought in to prevent. They have enough home-grown players but not many players in the senior squad under the age of 21. At present there are 38 first-team players listed in the first team squad. There are not many under the age of 21 though. As it stands, City will not be able to include eight senior players in their squad. That means these players will have to be sold on or loaned out, otherwise they’ll be sat in the sidelines for most of the season.
This rule leaves some big name players at risk. Particularly players who are returning from long-term injuries as clubs will not want to risk a squad space on a player who may not be fit enough to play. Harry Redknapp has indicated Jonathan Woodgate, a former England international, may not get a place in his squad, saying “'Woody's nowhere near at the moment, nowhere near. I couldn't put him in my 25. You can't have somebody in who's never going to play, if he's not going to be fit. He's got to prove that between now and the start of the season and he's a long way off.”. Owen Hargeaves may face a similar situation at Manchester United and Andy Johnson, Fulham’s record signing, may not be eligible to play this season.
This will present a problem to managers as they will have to deal with a player who knows that he cannot play and will have to manage his confidence and morale levels, which will be difficult. Also, clubs will have to live with players getting tens of thousands of pounds per week, but sitting in the stands wathcing every game rather than playing in the league.
Some managers, unsurprisingly, are against this rule. They think that if a team can afford to keep a big squad, they should be entitled to. Also, some managers are concerned about players getting complacent as they know they can’t be replaced. Harry Redknapp recently said “I think if young players are good enough they'll come through (anyway). You get some kids who will get in the 25 and don't work on their game. You've got to deserve to be there, rather than just having them for the sake of it, token players”
This season looks like it is shaping up to be one of the most exciting and open in years. It looks like Chelsea and Manchester United may not be as strong next season, due to their aging squads. Mancheseter City have spent big and Mancini will be expected to deliver. Arsenal seem to have adressed some of their weaknesses so may be in a position to challenge (if Fabregas stays) Liverpool should be stronger under Roy Hodgson this season and Spurs, Villa and Everton will be eyeing the top 4 too. It looks like it’s not only the on-pitch action that will be interesting but how the managers manage their squads.