The Football Association in England has implemented a new rule that reserves four places in each match day squad exclusively for English players from the 2013/2014 season in The National Futsal League. Many other leagues across the world have various similar restrictions to limit the number of foreign players allowed in each team.
The objective of these restrictions is to improve the performance of the national team. The theory being that by having more eligible players playing regularly at the top level in the country, it will mean that the standard of these players improves. Here I give my personal opinion on these types of rules.
There is a correlation between few domestic players playing in the top national division and a lack of quality players in the respective national teams, and the restrictions appear to be based on the assumption that this is the direction of causation as well (i.e. Fewer local players in the top division leads to lower national team performance). I would argue that the contrary holds more truth; it is the existence of a lack of quality in local players that means teams then opt to bring in more talented foreign players.
In Spain there is no limit on the selection of foreign players and yet their league still features a large number of Spanish players, many of whom are considered among the best players in the world, and the national team is very successful. People see a lot of foreigners and a lack of local talent and, without investigating further, come to the conclusion that the former is causing the latter, when it could also be the other way around.
Could it not be that clubs must turn to foreigners because, at youth level, the players are not being developed as well as they are in other countries? If this is the case then the question needs be asked: what is the difference at youth level that is causing their domestic players to be less skilful?
I don’t believe it should matter which country you were born in. I prefer to see the person succeed who has worked the hardest to develop their ability, regardless of their country of birth. In this way sport should not be different from any other trade. When you call for a plumber, is your main concern their ability to do the job, or whether or not they possess a British passport? I don’t think it is fair that you are differentiated just because of the place you happened to have been born.
The local player already has a head start in the quest to succeed, as they are familiar with the culture, language, league and style of play in their country. If you gift local players too much, such as guaranteed spots, then you are just protecting them from competition and it is competition that gives people the incentive and motivation to improve.
Playing for England in 2012
Competition not only encourages individuals to improve, but also the national youth development system as well; with restrictions you are just making it easier to produce players that will make it to the top level. This may sound good, but in actual fact doesn’t necessarily mean that you are developing better players, rather just lowering the bar of what they need to produce to get there. Further it lessens the incentive for those involved in youth development to find out what other countries are doing that is resulting in them developing better players and so inhibits improvements being made.
World Class Level in Home Country
The idea that restricting the amount of foreigners leads to more opportunities for local players to play at the highest level is, in my opinion, misleading. Let’s take the example of the sport of football in England. Here, they could introduce a rule that says foreign players are no longer allowed in the English leagues. The result would be that the national team coach has hundreds of players, playing at Premier League level to choose from. Does this mean that they will be better players? Not necessarily, because all that would happen is the standard of the Premier League would reduce, maybe to where the standard of the Championship or League One (2nd & 3rd divisions in England) are currently.
As I have said before, I believe that the best way to improve is to challenge yourself just above your current level. So, if you are a good English player at the moment in English football you are able to get an opportunity at Championship level, but if you are a great player you have the opportunity to test yourself at a world class level in the Premier League, playing with the best from around the world. Therefore, currently, English football players have the opportunity to play at whatever level is most suitable for their development and because of the presence of foreigners in the Premier League this goes all the way up to the world elite level. They don’t have to go abroad to be able to test themselves against the best, as they did in the past. Hence, having a rule that permits only a very limited number of foreign players could actually mean the best domestic players leave the league.
These types of rules can also work against improving the results of a national team. My own development could be used as an example. In England, futsal is relatively new and the level has been quite low, with leagues abroad being much stronger. As an English player, I have gone abroad to play in professional leagues where the higher level has meant I have developed a lot as a player. This means that the national team now has a better player available to them than they would have had. However, if other leagues restricted to only allow one or two foreigners then these opportunities would have been much more difficult for me to obtain.
Club v Country
Key to this debate is what you see the role of a national league. What is the balance between being there to supply the national team or to entertain? My personal preference is that club futsal is the place where you get to see the best compete against the best and international level is where you measure the quality of a country’s players. If national leagues restrict to only a couple of foreigners then the best teams will basically just be the national teams and this is seen currently in many countries where there are stringent restrictions already in place. If every country enforced restrictions then the quality of futsal overall would be lower, because no competition would exist where the best play with, and against, the best.
I am not against these rules in their entirety but just want to caution against being over restrictive and ensure that the true consequences of doing so are considered. Furthermore, let’s not think that they are the solution to the poor performance of national teams, because then we could neglect improving the youth development system.
It is essential to promote youth development, as the future of the sport depends on it. I therefore propose a better rule would be making it mandatory to have three under 23 domestic players in each squad. This would encourage all teams to invest in youth development and give young players, who are the future of the national team, better opportunities. After they have been given this opportunity to show and develop their talent, i.e. reached 23 years of age, they would then have to compete with everyone else. I believe it is much better to provide opportunities for domestic players to prove themselves and show what they can do, rather than just guaranteeing privileges without having to work for it.
I am sure many of you have your own views on this subject, some quite different to my own, and I would be interested to hear your opinions below.