England’s FA chairman wants more Harry Kanes, which means cutting back on opportunities for non-European talent

English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke has announced plans to limit non-European Union players in England’s leagues, an apparent attempt to bolster the amount of quality English talent. His goal: to uncover the next Harry Kane, obviously.

No, seriously. And yes, this hardly sounds like a reasonable plan.

Speaking to the BBC, Dyke outlined several new proposals targeting #PeakEnglishness, including:

  • The “home grown player” designation will apply to players registered with a club from age 15 instead of 18.
  • The minimum number of home-grown first-team players within a squad of 25 will increase from eight to 12.
  • Only the best non-EU foreign players can gain permission to play in England. (Good luck figuring out how to define “best.”)

These proposals, geared at cultivating more Kanes, are particularly entertaining when you consider the new 5.136 billion pound broadcast deal the Premier League announced with Sky and BT in February.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore at the time claimed:

“The number one objective for us and the clubs is to put on the best possible football competition. Offering high-quality football in world-class stadiums full of passionate fans generates local and global interest. This allows us to generate income for our clubs and the game more widely.”

Scudamore’s objective is reasonable enough in isolation. But it becomes less tenable when you try to square the idea of creating the “best possible football competition” with the forced introduction of more domestic players who may not be good enough to thrive in a global market. The limits on non-EU players may result in more English players getting a chance but doesn’t necessarily mean that any of them will be any good, and it doesn’t mean that many will be able to contribute to creating great soccer for a global audience.

Dyke’s proposal doesn’t say anything about why more “home grown” restrictions will produce more Harry Kanes. But he does ask himself a question suggesting he’s found a key, which he promptly answers:

“How many other Harry Kanes are around in the youth teams of Premier League clubs? It was almost by chance that Tim Sherwood became manager at Tottenham for a time and put him in the side – otherwise he would still be out on loan at Millwall or somewhere else.”

Eureka! The treasure has been found. It turns out, Premier League youth teams might be littered with prodigies. They just need to be liberated by a Tim Sherwood, or freed by bureaucrats making careful tweaks to a quota system. Sadly, Tim Sherwood can’t be everywhere at once. But at least we have quotas to help free English kids.

However, quotas, in this case, can be problematic. One issue with using quotas is presupposing the dearth of talent is a numbers issue. If only more English players were in the pool, instead of these foreign kids clogging the system, more Harry Kanes would be coming through and then we wouldn’t get knocked out of the World Cup in the first round. Sure, that’s possible, but it also might be the case that young English players just haven’t traditionally been very good in comparison to their counterparts. Perhaps the quality of coaching hasn’t been good. Maybe there’s been an element of hunger missing. It’s cliché, but maybe. Perhaps there’s something beyond “getting a chance” that stifles young English talent from breaking through — something that has little to do with a few extra non-EU players floating around youth and first team setups.

Greg Dyke’s quest for missing Kanes is really about the tension between a league claiming to have the greatest global product ever and having to deal with the nationalistic pressures. Trimming and refining the molds on “home grown players” won’t remedy that tension, particularly if the case of missing Kanes is about something more than finding places for English players.

If that turns out to be the case, this whole Dyke dance becomes a little sad, because this just turns into a case of dumping failure on the backs of outsiders. That’s generally always the easy thing to do, but rarely does it solve the problem. The more likely outcome: you just end up with more and more stories about players who are meant to be “the next Harry Kane,” but never seem to find a way to live up to those expectations. And sadness ensues.

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