With Manchester City on the verge of a Premier League title and only having three English players eligible for a winnerai??i??s medal, some have called for the English FA to change the home-grown rule. While the rule may need to be changed, a look at the rule, the incentives it creates, and how the rule operates in the environment of European football is needed. Also, one should consider if the goals of the FA come at too great a cost to the rest of footballing society.

What is the FA’s Home-Grown Rule?

Premier League clubs do not face explicit restrictions on squad size. A side can have any number of under-21 (age 21 or younger) players on the squad. Premier League clubs can have a maximum of 25 players over the age of 21 in their squad. So, if a club wanted a squad with more than 25 players, only 25 slots could go to players older than 21. The other slots must go to under-21 players.

The home-grown aspect deals with the portion of the squad over the age of 21. It stipulates that clubs can only have 17 non-home grown players over the age of 21. That means the rest of the over-21 portion of the squad must comprise of players considered home grown. Therefore, if a club wanted to have 18 or more players over the age of 21, a maximum of 17 can be non-home grown. A club could still legally field a team of more than 17 players with no home-grown players over the age of 21, by filling out the squad with under-21 players.

Paul Pogba's time at Manchester United gives him the classification of home-grown in English Football

Paul Pogba’s time at Manchester United gives him the classification of home-grown in English Football

To qualify as a home-grown player, a player must have spent at least three seasons or 36 months in English football and that period must occur between the age of 16 and 21. Therefore, one does not need English or British nationality to have the classification of home-grown. Cesc Fabregas qualifies as a home-grown player in England, as he spent at least three years at Arsenal during his age 16-21 years. Paul Pogba counts as a home-grown player in England as he spent three seasons (but not 36 months) at Manchester United during his age 16-21 years.

Summary of FAai??i??s Home-Grown Rule

  • No Limit on Players Under 21 Years Old = No Limit on Squad Size
  • Non-Home Grown players over 21 + Home Grown Players over 21 ai??i?? 25
  • Non-Home Grown players over 21 ai??i?? 17
  • Home-Grown = Spent 3 seasons or 36 months at in English football and that time occurred during their age 16-21 years

What Are Some of the Incentives This Rule Creates?

Back in 2010, some may have thought that the home-grown rule would lead to more young English players getting a chance starting for Premier League clubs. However, that is not what the home-grown rule explicitly incentivizes. The home-grown rule does not directly award clubs to give more playing time to young English players. What the home-grown rule incentivizes is having home-grown players. These players may be English; these players may not be English. These players could have developed at the club they play for; these players could have developed at another English club. All that matters is that a player is considered home-grown.

Even though this rule incentivizes clubs to have home-grown talent on the squad, the incentive is not a strong one. The rule does not directly increase the cost or decrease the benefit (change the cost-benefit analysis) of fielding non home-grown players in squad spots 1-17. In reality, all the rule does is make the cost of the 18th-25th non-home grown player extremely large. A team that would field 1 to 17 non-home grown players without the rule will field the same number of non-home grown players with the rule.Ai?? Therefore, it only affects the clubs who, in the absence of the rule, would field more than 17 non-home grown talents.

Chelsea had 5 home-grown players in their squad to start the 2013-14 season (John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill, and Ryan Bertrand), and of those, only Ryan Bertrand started the season under the age of 27 (he went on loan to Aston Villa in January). Arsenal started the 2013-14 seasons with five home-grown players, but only two English ones (Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott). Since the home-grown rule does not change the value of home-grown players relative to under-21 players (the cost-benefit analysis remains the same with or without the rule), it is unlikely that the home-grown rule has led to these teams giving more squad slot to home-grown players.

To reiterate, all the incentives created by the home-grown rule involve home-grown players, not English players necessarily.

UEFAai??i??s Home-Grown Rule: A Confounding Variable

The FAai??i??s home-grown rule is not the only home-grown rule that Premier League clubs face. For any club participating in the Champions League and Europa League, the UEFA Home-Grown rule also comes into play.

The UEFA Home-Grown Rule stipulates that a teamai??i??s over-21 squad (List A) can have a maximum of 25 players. Within the 25-player maximum, UEFA mandates that only home-grown players take up slots 18-25 on List A.Ai?? Of these eight home-grown players, only four slots can go to players deemed association-trained. The rest must go to club-trained players. A club-trained player is a player who spent 3 seasons or 36 months at his current club between the age of 15 and 21. An association-trained player is a player who spent 3 seasons or 36 months in their clubai??i??s football association between the age of 15 and 21.

FC Barcelona news

Cesc Fabregas is a home-grown player for English clubs, but is not a home-grown player for Barcelona according to UEFA’s definition.

For example, Cesc Fabregas has a club-trained classification for Arsenal, has an association-trained classification for any other English club, and does not contribute in any way to the home-grown count of non-English clubs (yes, Fabregas does not contribute to Barcelonaai??i??s home-grown count).

If a team cannot meet the home-grown mandates, then they lose those squad slots on List A. If a team has seven home-grown players, with four club-trained players, the maximum size of the teamai??i??s List A is 24 because they could only fill seven of the eight home-grown spots. If a team has eight home-grown players, but no club-trained players, the maximum size of the teamai??i??s List A is 21 because they can only fill four of the eight home-grown slots, since they can only field a maximum of four association-trained players.

Summary of UEFAai??i??s Home-Grown Rule

  • Size of List A ai??i?? 25
  • Number of Home-Grown Players ai??? 8
  • Association-Trained and Club-Trained players can fill the Home-Grown Players
  • Number of Association-Trained Players Filling the Required Home-Grown Slots ai??i?? 4
  • Association-Trained: Spent 3 seasons or 36 months in their clubai??i??s football association between the age of 15 and 21
  • Club Trained: Ai??Spent 3 seasons or 36 months at his current club between the age of 15 and 21

There is no limit on the number of players on List B (the under-21 list), as long as they have been eligible to play for the club for an uninterrupted period of two years during the time between their 15th birthday and the time they are registered with UEFA.

One can see some significant differences between the UEFA rule and the FA rule. The UEFA rule sets a minimum of home-grown players, while the FA rule sets a maximum number of non-home grown players. The UEFA rule makes a distinction between club-trained vs. association-trained players and puts a limit on using association-trained players to meet the home-grown requirement. The FA rule has no such distinction. The UEFA rule makes it more difficult to supplement a squad (fill squad spots 18 to X) with under-21 players than the FA rule, as the UEFA rule requires that the under-21 player has already spent that uninterrupted period of two years with the club.

Similar to the FA rule, the UEFA rule does not change the cost-benefit analysis for slots 1-17 (teams will still behave the same way with or without the rule). And similar to the FA rule, the UEFA impacts the cost-benefit analysis of slots 18-25. Finally, neither the UEFA rule nor the FA rule do much to increase the incentives for developing home-grown players, as one can often avoid relying on the performances of players in slots 18-25 of the squad.

So how does this impact a Premier League clubai??i??s behavior? One could look at Manchester City. Manchester City had nine home-grown players (Dedryck Boyata, Gael Clichy, Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott, James Milner, Alex Nimely, Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell, and Richard Wright) to start the 2013-14 season, and this is greater number than any of the current top 5 sides had at the start of this season (Liverpool = 8, Chelsea =5, Arsenal =5, Everton = 7). While one could argue that the FAai??i??s home-grown rule has pushed City to hoard this many home-grown players, the presence of a UEFA home-grown rule may play a more prominent role.

It is difficult to see if Manchester City focus more on satisfying UEFA's squad regulations than the FA's squad regulations.

It is difficult to see which set of squad regulations Manchester City focus on more, UEFA’s of the FA’s.

Manchester City have made it obvious that they wish to excel both in England and in Europe. If Manchester City want to minimize their reliance on the performances of their own under-21 players (players who would qualify for List B) because they want to win now, then it behooves them to fill the squad with players who meet UEFAai??i??s set of home-grown requirements. These players do not have to necessarily provide added value relative to non-home grown players. They just need to have more value relative to the List B players who fill out the squad (Matija Nastasic does not count as squad filler) for Manchester City to want to hoard them. This helps to explain why Manchester City have players like Jack Rodwell and Micah Richards without making an much of effort to develop them. They are ai???break glass in case of emergencyai??? options and are better options than their List B squad filler.

So while one could argue that the FA home-grown rule needs to change to prevent teams like Manchester City to do what they do, one must consider the incentives created by UEFAai??i??s home-grown rule. A club like Manchester City may continue an undesirable behavior (specifically undesirable from the FAai??i??s perspective) due to the greater strength of incentives the UEFA rule creates compared to incentives the FA rule creates.

Some Potential Plans Involving Restrictions

When looking at the unintended consequences and the ineffectiveness of central planning, one cannot help but think of Friedrich August von Hayek, who wrote, ai???The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.ai??? When thinking of solutions, centrally planned or not, one should consider the words of Thomas Sowell, ai???There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.ai??? With respect to potential changes in the FAai??i??s home-grown rule, one should look at both the benefits of change and the costs of change to see if the juice is worth the squeeze. In light of this, here is a look at a few potential solutions and some of their possible effects (the probability that a person or group of people could foresee all the potential effects of a policy is close to zero).

One could decrease the maximum number of non-home grown players a club could have in their squad. This solution could lead to more home-grown players and more under-21 players on Premier League squads; however, as with the current rule, this type of regulation only affects how squads choose players to fill the slots above the maximum (if the maximum number gets reduced to 12, the rule only impacts slots 13-25). One could have a low enough maximum (say 8) to ensure that home-grown players consistently appear on the starting XIs of all clubs. This would probably reduce the tendency for clubs to treat home-grown players as quota fodder, as this change increased the cost of signing a player just as home-grown quota fodder or failing to develop home-grown players (harder to hide weaker players in squad slots 8-17 than slots 17-25).

However, as discussed above, this type of rule only incentivizes having and giving playing time to home-grown players, not English players. One could see a more uniform distribution of home-grown players among the Premier League teams rather than an increase in the number of home-grown players. One could see increased effort from clubs to bring home-grown players back from other nations (Cesc Fabregas and Paul Pogba become hotter commodities in this system). A rule like this would also increase the incentive for clubs to buy promising young players at 18 or younger, giving them enough time to spend 3 seasons or 36 months at the club. Since the home-grown rule is agnostic with respect to nationality, these players could come from any nation. Clubs would target players who have either made a quality first-team as an under-18 player or target players from academies with a track record of developing under-18 players who can provide value at a young age. Even sides further down the Premier League table could have an incentive to make more of these purchases, as these players having artificially high resale value due to the FA regulation. This could lead to amazing growth in transfer fees paid for under-18 talent, promoting increased specialization with more clubs (both English and non-English) basing their mode of operation on developing young talent quickly for richer English clubs to purchase.

So, if the FAai??i??s goal is to enrich and to create more clubs that consistently produce young players who can provide immediate value, this plan may prove quite successful. If the FAai??i??s goal is to increase the chances for young English players, helping them develop and strengthening the national team, then the FAai??i??s success depends on factors outside of their control.

Glen Hoddle left England (probably due to a combination of the Heysel Ban and a lack of appreciation) in 1987. Why don't young English players lead for better opportunities abroad?

Glen Hoddle left England (probably due to a combination of the Heysel Ban and a lack of appreciation) in 1987. Why don’t young English players lead for better opportunities abroad?

One could do away with the limit on non-home grown players and instead require that each team start X number of home-grown players in every Premier League match. This regulation does differ from the current one. This regulation allocates squad spots 1 to X to home-grown players. This makes the cost of having bad home-grown players greater. It does this without a major increase in the number of home-grown players on a team that a reduction in the non-home grown player maximum would cause. This probably leads to less home-grown players winding up as squad fodder. However, it suffers from the same issues as the previously discussed plan due to the definition of home-grown.

Another potential solution could take a page from the UEFA rule book and call for clubs to have a minimum of X club-trained players. This would constitute a shift from home-grown = association-trained to home-grown = club-trained. This would increase the incentive for each club to produce home-grown players, as it ultimately penalizes those who do not. Manchester City could not buy a player like Cesc Fabregas and use him to meet the home-grown quota (only Arsenal could). If they want to meet the FAai??i??s regulation, they would need to start producing home-grown players of their own or rely more on the contributions of under-21 players (remember the FA has no regulations on those players). Either way, a club like Manchester City or Chelsea would have a greater incentive to efficiently allocate more resources towards the development of young players, English and non-English.

This plan could still lead to increased purchasing of the worldai??i??s best under-18 talent (work-permit issues permitting) by English clubs, in an effort to more easily meet the requirement. However, this rule does not incentivize the purchasing of under-18 talent by English clubs who have a desire to sell it later. In fact, the rule promotes a form of protectionism among clubs, as it reduces the value of buying a player who trained at another club, even if they were English. This rule would probably have a negative impact on selling clubs that could force them to restructure their financial model or, in the worst case, become insolvent. It may have a negative impact on the development of young talents as it forces clubs who may do a terrible job of developing players to develop them. That could also decreases the number of young talents at club who are proficient at developing talent, as labor is not allowed to flow to its highest valued use.

Is it Worth it?

One could come up with different solutions involving restrictions. One could come up with solutions that provide explicit rewards for developing home-grown talent (this author does not know if there exist any legal issues with subsidizing clubs to specifically develop young English talent and/or give young English talent playing time). However, the question that one should ask, ai???is it all worth it?ai???

The Premier League is an English football league only in that the game are played in England. In reality, for good and bad, the Premier League is a global league with fans both inside and outside of England (some Premier League clubs probably have more fans outside of England than inside England). One could argue that Premier League clubs have an obligation to their fans (customers), both in England and outside of England. At the very least, clubs need to provide a product their fans are willing to pay for. With respect to fans outside of England, one can safely assume that they care about the success of the Premier League club they support, not how many English players get a shot to play. In all likelihood, they care more about their own nationai??i??s national team or do not care about the success of any particular national team. It is not improbable that English fans of Premier League clubs care more about the success of their club than the number of English players getting playing time or the success of the Three Lions. Ultimately, Premier League clubs do not have a responsibility to provide talent for the English national team, unless it is something their owners and their fans desire or happens to be the best way to provide the product the owners and fans want.

The English FA wants clubs to produce more English players so they can create a better national team and give some evidence (though it may be false evidence) that they are positively impacting the English game. They are a nationalistic institution, not a global one. Regulations that lead to better English talent for the English national tea, will be favored by the FA, since their regulations do not impose a cost on the FA (unless their regulation led to a decrease in the number and quality of English talent produced). The costs (poorer quality of Premier League teams, decreased success in Europe, loss of fans (both current and future) around the world to better leagues, etc.) of the FAai??i??s attempts to force the production of more and better English talent are imposed on the clubs, their owners, and their fans. This means that what is best for the FA and ai???English footballai??? is probably bad for a majority of the people who actually watch Premier League football.

So while a small minority (the English FA, some English journalists, an a small subset of Premier League fans) want to see clubs devote more resources towards developing English players, the marginal benefits to that small group of individuals may not outweigh the marginal costs imposed on Premier League clubs, their owners, and Premier League fans, leading to a net loss for society.

It takes more than talent to create a quality side. Maybe the English FA should first look to develop cohesion and a stable playing philosophy before working to improve the quality of English talent.

It takes more than talent to create a quality side. Maybe the English FA should first look to develop cohesion and a stable playing philosophy before working to improve the quality of English talent.

And there are other ways to improve the English national team that could impose less of a cost. As this author wrote , the new format of the European Championships gives England more incentive to take a long-term view on team-building, rather than the short-term view that has dominated the selection and playing philosophy of the English national team. It may be that having a team with greater cohesion and an established style of play is more important in international football than having a talented team without the cohesion and established playing philosophy.

Also, a question that the FA has ignored is, ai???why do English players stay in England?ai??? Looking at Arsenal, players like Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin, Jon Toral, Serge Gnabry, etc. all left their home countries to progress more quickly and/or receive a higher caliber of training. Why do English players not do the same? Maybe the FA could promote greater development of English talent by giving young English players an incentive to go abroad. Outside of England these players could find more playing time and a better environment to develop their skills, and all of this could occur without forcing the Premier League and the people involved with the Premier League to bear the cost (outsourcing is not a bad thing).

Until the FA looks at all the facets of the development of English players and the England national team, they will either fail to improve the England national team and the ai???English gameai??? or succeed at too great a cost to the rest of footballing society.

UPDATE: The FA Commission’s report, released May 8th 2014 (this piece was written on May 7th 2014), contains the following proposal:

“We propose that there should be a gradual reduction in the number of nonAi??Home Grown players allowed in each Premier League squad down from theAi??current figure of 17 to 12.”

“The change would start being applied in 2016-17 (the same year as B teamsAi??would be allowed) with the number being reduced by one to 16 that year andAi??then by a further one each year ending in 2020-21 when the number would beAi??down to 12.”

“This measure would also be accompanied by the introduction of a small number ofAi??squad places reserved for Club Trained players, mirroring the UEFA requirement. AgainAi??we suggest this is first introduced in 2016-17 with a quota of two Club Trained playersAi??required in each squad, and increased to three in 2018-19 and to four in 2019-20. OfAi??course Club Trained players would also count towards the Home Grown numbers.At the same time the number of Home Grown Players required on each FootballAi??League team sheet of 18 players would be increased from 6 to 12, a change alreadyAi??being considered by Football League clubs.”

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