By Tucker Carlton | @TuckerCarlton02 | Illustration by Humphrey Harris-Burton
After the English Premier League was created in 1992, football was never going to be the same again. Amidst a whirlwind of investment, television deals and sponsorship, football was soon to be the world’s biggest, most lucrative sport. Fast forward 25 years, and Lionel Messi is the game’s highest paid player, raking in over £40 million per season through wages, endorsements and image rights. But how much has this financial revolution impacted on young, English footballing talent?
Amongst the biggest changes to English football over the last two and half decades was the influx of foreign players. A combination of household names being attracted to top Premier League teams able to pay the biggest wages, and lesser players from abroad offering a cheaper alternative to homegrown talent has seen British players crowded out of England’s top division, with many finding a home in lower leagues. But whilst it might not be flowing as freely as it does in the highest league in the country, money has still found its way to the EFL Championship. New TV deals have ensured that teams that promoted teams are guaranteed at least £160 million upon their entry to the Premier League, leading to teams such as Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa to follow the example set by bigger teams, acquiring new, cash-rich owners and scrapping their English players for foreign imports.
In May 2017, Greek shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis purchased Nottingham Forest from former owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi, creating a ripple of excitement that was felt throughout the entire city. The new change in ownership bought with it heavy investment in the first team squad, with about £30 million being spent on around thirty players since the beginning of the 2017/18 season. However, only nine of those players were English, and only two of those transfers involving English players required a fee.
When the expected success didn’t follow, then Forest manager Karanka overhauled the squad again ahead of the 2018/19 season. 16 foreign players were signed, further putting into doubt the place of what English talent remained in the squad. With regular playing time integral to a players development, the presence of additional competition, often available at a much reduced cost, is both detrimental to young English player’s confidence, as well as a major stumbling block in fulfilling their potential.
Although the recent appointment of club legends Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane to the Forest management team has shown positive signs, fifty miles south-west from the City Ground, at Villa Park, Aston Villa have had an equally roller-coaster three years. Following relegation from the Premier League in 2016, Villa faced up to reality of life in the Championship. That reality proved too much for owner Randy Lerner, who soon sold the club to Dr. Tony Xia for a reported £76 million. Since then, Villa have spent over £100 million on 33 players, only three of whom were English, further demonstrating the damaging impact of money on young English players.
After a 4th placed finish in their second Championship season, Aston Villa lost the Play-Off final last season, and find themselves this season on the brink of administration, saved only by further foreign investment. Only able to bring three permanent deals, a disappointing season saw a change in manager and, if promotion is not achieved this season, further scrutiny will be put upon their spending methods.
Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are just two examples of the culture of outlandish spending that has dominated the Championship in recent years. Far from guaranteeing success, this practise has only proven one thing so far: English talent is not being given the platform develop. Only time will tell whether this has a long lasting effect on English talent in the country, and whether money will continue to flood clubs that are failing to grasp success.