Our man in Israel, Jon Holmes, looks at how the Premier League's youth quota rule has proven itself ineffective for the England team.
By Jon Holmes - Follow @jonboy79
Last Updated: 13/06/13 1:28pm
"The Premier League welcomes overseas players but remains aware of the need to sustain the development of home-grown talent."
That's the official line taken by 'the greatest league in the world' (TM) on the home-grown player rule, implemented at the start of the 2010-11 season and designed to curb the influence of Carlos Kickaballs on our beloved national game. 'We're not xenophobic - far from it!" say the men from Gloucester Place. 'Thierry Henry, Gianfranco Zola, Cristiano Ronaldo, Winston Bogarde - we've always loved having talented foreign footballers (and the odd rubbish one) plying their trade here, but we recognise the fact that English players aren't getting a look in. Fear not! We've done something about it.'
And so it was decreed that each Premier League club would have to submit a squad of 25 players maximum, with only 17 of those allowed to be foreign imports. Under-21s don't count towards the figure; you can supplement as many of those as you want (and you might not want to at all).
As for the other eight players, these are your home-grown hoard - the special saplings upon which you will nurture love and attention, sprinkling them merrily into the Premier League fray when the occasion calls for it and eventually seeing them become mighty sunflowers, standing tall and winning prizes at the World Cup fete.
Yet the problem remains - 'home-grown' doesn't necessarily help the Home Nations, never mind just England. With the rule stipulating that players in question have to be trained by an English or Welsh FA club for three years before they hit 21, it simply means the clubs are working harder to recruit talented youngsters from overseas before their 18th birthday. Then, they play the waiting game - will it be a bumper harvest, or will the crop wither on the vine?
It's hard enough for any up-and-coming footballer to make it in this environment, let alone an English one. Danny Hoesen was leading the line for Holland Under-21s against Spain in the European U21 Championship on Wednesday. At the age of 17, he joined Fulham from Fortuna Sittard and almost three years later, he made the first-team bench for a Premier League match, at the end of the first season of home-grown rule implementation. Hoesen didn't get on, and in the following campaign, desperate for first-team football, he was back at Fortuna on a season-long loan. Hitting 13 goals earned him a transfer to Ajax last summer, even though Fulham still admired him enough to retain a 30% interest. Hoesen is now getting Champions League experience; in November, he made a scoring substitute appearance against Borussia Dortmund. The player he replaced? Eyong Enoh, who three months later was taking a squad spot on loan at... Fulham.
I spoke to Hoesen after the Jong Oranje had learned that a semi-final against Italy awaits them at the U21 Euro, and asked him whether the slim opportunities for youngsters under these rules is the greatest factor in England U21s' humiliating failure in the finals, the torture finally ending in a turgid 1-0 defeat to hosts Israel on Tuesday.
"I think so," said Hoesen. "In other countries, youth players get more of a chance to play in the first team. In England, you have to be really good, or have a lot of experience out on loan in order to play. In Holland, Germany and Spain, they just let young players play.
"You have to have hope. As a young player, if you can come on in the first team and keep playing, and thereby earn the confidence of the coach, you can only become better."
And with the pressure on Premier League managers (half of which are also foreign) greater than ever, faith in the future is a quality rapidly disappearing from the English top-flight football landscape. All the home-grown 'helping hand' has achieved so far is inflated premiums on our better born-and-breds (such as Liverpool's splurge on Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson), and the long-term prognosis for the rule cannot be considered rosier at this stage.
Improving our standards of coaching - one of the key benefits that St George's Park will bring - is perhaps the most important remedy to the ongoing England malaise. Until that bears fruit in a decade's time, we risk seeking alternative cures in a quick-fix culture that smacks of quackery. The home-grown rule as it stands is homeopathy dispensed by the Premier League, and the FA shouldn't allow themselves to be hoodwinked by it.
Before watching England U21s say 'lehitraot' (that's the Hebrew word for goodbye - this blog at least attempts to educate) to the U21 Euro, myself and Sam Rooke from the Sunday Times headed west of Jerusalem's city centre to visit Yad Vesham, Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. As you can imagine, this made for a deeply moving but also fascinating visit. The museum tells the story of antisemitism from its origins in the Middle Ages right through to the evil enactment of the 'Final Solution', and its spread across towns and cities over the entire European continent and into North Africa too. It's a struggle to comprehend the scale of such systematic murder, but the personal testimonies provided by Shoah survivors and the intelligent use of exhibits and space help contextualise the sequence of events.
When you leave the museum, you walk through a vast landscaped park full of memorials, such as the Cattle Car - an actual train compartment used by the Nazis to transport Jews to the death camps, perched high upon a dead-end track. The most awe-inspiring monument is the colossal hectare-square Valley of the Communities - a network of chambers carved into the rock floor, with inscriptions naming locations where Jewish ghettos were created and then emptied in the most murderous fashion imaginable.
England manager Roy Hodgson visited the complex earlier in the day and spoke afterwards of how the experience was "very sobering" and "particularly depressing". It's impossible to rationalise the so-called crises we encounter in modern football with an institution like Yad Vesham; Hodgson was quoted as saying that "if you were to use the perspective that we've seen here, then you'd find it very hard to get out of bed in the morning". FA chairman David Bernstein mentioned how senior England players had all recognised the value of visiting Auschwitz during Euro 2012, underlining the importance of being 'good tourists' - something Three Lions travelling parties are definitely improving at after being holed up at the Rustenburg retreat in South Africa, even if our performances on the pitch when overseas aren't making for happy memories.
We're now looking forward to the U21 Euro semi-finals live only on Sky Sports on Saturday - Spain v Norway, followed by Italy v Holland, so make sure you're following @SkyFootball and myself on @jonboy79 for all the latest news and goings-on at the European U21 Championship.