Are England’s current Home Grown Player requirements sufficient to produce an elite national team?

Published 04 May 2017 | Authored by: Phil Bonner

On 6 April 2017, the English Football League (“EFL”) announced that its 72 members clubs (each of whom compete in one of the three divisions that the EFL oversees – the Championship, League One, and League Two) had approved proposals to increase the number[1] of “home grown players” in their match day squads for the 2017-18 season and to also include at least one “club-developed” player in the 2018-19 season[2].

This article considers the genesis of home grown player requirements within European football; the current requirements that are in place in both the EFL and the English Premier League (“EPL”); and considers whether or not the requirement to name “home grown” players in match day squads is an effective means of developing elite English-qualified talent and providing them with sufficient opportunities in first team football. Specifically, it looks at:

  • Home Grown” and “Club-Developed” player requirements in the EFL

  • Home Grown Player requirements in the EPL

  • The genesis of Home Grown Player requirements in European football 

  • Why have the EFL implemented changes to its Home Grown player regime?

  • Can we expect the introduction of club-developed players in the EPL?

  • Are the current Home Grown Player requirements an effective means of producing elite English-qualified players?

 

Home Grown” and “Club-Developed” Player requirements in the EFL 

At present, Section 5[3] of the EFL’s Rules and Regulations (“EFL Rules and Regulations”) requires each EFL club to nominate 6 home grown players on their team sheet for each league match, including Play-Off matches[4]

Following the EFL’s recent announcement, EFL clubs have agreed to increase[5] that number to 7 for the 2017-18 season. 

A “Home Grown Player” is defined[6] as a player who: 

  • irrespective of their nationality or age, has been registered with either:
    • their current club (who is a member of the EFL); and/or
    • a club and/or any other football club affiliated with The Football Association ("The FA") or Football Association of Wales (for example, EPL or non-league clubs)

for a period, continuous or non-continuous, of three seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which they turn 21).

Home grown player requirements were first introduced[7] by the EFL in time for the 2009-10 season, with EFL clubs having to name at least 4 home grown players in what was then a 16 player match day squad, a quota that was subsequently increased in the 2011-12 season to 6 in order to reflect the increase to 18 player match day squads. 

In addition to the increase in home grown players that will be required on EFL’s clubs team sheets, a new definition will be introduced to the EFL Rules and Regulations, that of the “club-developed” player. Each EFL club will need to include at least one club-developed” player[8] in their match day squad, who will be defined as a player who has been registered with their current team for at least 12 months prior to the end of their U19 season. Should a club fail to name such a player, they will only be able to name 6 substitutes rather than the normal allocation of 7.

 

Home Grown Player requirements in the English Premier League

The current requirements in the EPL, as set out in the Premier League Handbook for the 2016-17 season[9], were introduced[10] at the beginning of the 2010-11 season and are as follows:

  • A “Home Grown Player” is defined as a player who, irrespective of their nationality or age, has been registered with any association football club affiliated to The FA or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or non-continuous, of three seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which they turn 21)[11].

  • At the outset of the season, each club is allowed to register 25 players over the age of 21. Of those 25 players, 8 must qualify as home grown players[12].

 

The genesis of Home Grown Player requirements in European football 

The genesis of the current home grown player requirements in both the EFL and the EPL can be traced back to 2005 and the adoption by UEFA’s Executive Committee of its own home grown player rule[13] for teams entering its Champions League competition and UEFA Cup (now re-christened the Europa League) competition.

Consequently, from the 2008-09 season, clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League[14] and UEFA Cup/Europa League[15] are required to name a minimum of 8 home grown (or “locally trained”) players in a squad limited to 25[16]. 4 of these have to be “club-trained” and 4 have to be “association trained”:

  • A “club-trained player” is defined as a player who, between the age of 15 and 21, irrespective of their age or nationality, has been registered with their current club for a period, continuous or non-continuous, of three seasons or of 36 months between the ages of 15 and 21.

  • An “association trained” player fulfils the same criteria but with another club, or clubs, in the same association.

  • If a club has fewer than 8 locally trained players in its squad, then the maximum squad number of 25 players is reduced accordingly.

  • However, clubs competing in UEFA competitions have no obligation to put a specified number of home grown players on the field of play or in the match day squad, ensuring that they have a large degree of autonomy when it comes to deciding their starting 11 and match day squads.

One of UEFA’s stated aims[17] in implementing the reforms was to ensure clubs were incentivised to train their own players, counter what it perceived to be a trend of the richest clubs “hoarding” the best players, and to try to re-establish a “local” identity at clubs.

The European Commission came out in support of UEFA’s incentive, ruling that UEFA’s new requirements were compatible with EU law in May 2008[18]. Given the absence of any nationality requirements in the definition of home grown players, the European Commission was satisfied that UEFA’s initative achieved the legitimate objective of promoting the training of young European players, whilst preventing any direct discrimination on the basis of nationality (thereby complying with the Bosman ruling[19] in which quota rules based on nationality whilst playing in European competition had been abolished), thereby complying with the principle of the free movement of workers.

It is worth noting that the free movement of workers, one of four economic freedoms underpinning the European Single Market, has previously stymied an attempt by FIFA to introduce what it christened the “6+5” rule. Under that rule, at the beginning of each match, every club would be required to field at least 6 players eligible to play for the national team in which that club was domiciled. Having first been discussed in February 2008[20], and then formally adopted by FIFA in May 2008[21], it was emphatically rejected by the European Commission in 2010[22].

 

Why have the EFL implemented changes to its home grown player regime?

The forthcoming changes to the EFL Rules and Regulations form part of the EFL’s wider strategy of revitalising the fortunes of the England national team[23].

In May 2014[24], then FA Chairman Greg Dyke published his England Commission report (“Commission Report”), which sought to identify and address the causes of the Three Lions’ decline on the international stage.

One of the four “key areas” identified as being the primary obstruction to the development of young English-qualified players was a lack of competitive playing opportunities for 18-21 year old elite players at top clubs, with too few graduating from academies to first team football, instead falling foul of what was described as the “Bermuda triangle” of English football during the Professional Development Phase of their academy life.

Whilst some of the more controversial proposals in the report were emphatically rejected[25] (most notably, the proposal to create a new “League Three” in the football league structure and introduce Premier League B teams into either the newly-created league or the existing Conference[26]), the EFL has responded to the findings of the Commission Report with the implementation of a number of measures aimed at creating a clearer pathway for young players from clubs’ development programmes into the professional game.

Given that the EFL was one of the first major associations in Europe to implement home grown requirements when it did so for the 2009-10 season[27], its enthusiastic response to the Commission Report should not be a surprise. And, when viewed in that context, the implementation of the club-developed player requirement for the 2018-19 season can be seen as a natural progression from the introduction, and subsequent extension, of the existing home grown player requirements.

Prior to the EFL’s recent decision to introduce the new category of “club-developed” player, it is notable that, when implementing their own home grown player requirements, both the EPL and the EFL adopted the “association trained” definition used by UEFA, which did not contain the requirement for those players to have been developed within the club itself.

The EFL’s introduction of the club-developed player requirement signals a departure from the purely “association trained” definition that currently applies for home grown players in both the EPL and the EFL, ensuring that a player with an indelible “connection” to the club (at least in terms of the training they have received) will be on the match day team sheet of every EFL side from the start of the 2018-19 season. 

Moreover, the new requirement goes one step further than the requirements currently in place for UEFA competitions. By stipulating that the club-developed players must be in the match day squad (rather than merely having the “potential” to be named in that squad by virtue of being in the wider pool of squad players), the EFL’s decision shows that its 72 member clubs regard the (albeit slight) reduction in autonomy currently afforded to their coaching staff when naming match day squads as being a sacrifice worth making in order to promote young, and preferably English, talent.

 

Can we expect the introduction of club-developed players in the EPL? 

It is notable that the Commission Report proposed that the number of non-home grown players allowed in each Premier League squad should be reduced from the current level of 17 to 12. Under the proposal, starting from the 2016-17 season, the number of non-home grown players would have been gradually reduced (or, conversely, the number of home grown players would have been gradually increased) by one each season, ending in the 2020-21 season, at which point the majority of players in the squad of any EPL team would be classified as home grown[28].

The Commission Report also proposed the simultaneous introduction in the 2016-17 season of "club-trained players", mirroring the requirement for UEFA competitions. Indeed, the Commission Report felt that the introduction of a requirement of 2 “club-trained players” in each squad was achievable, increasing to 3 in the 2018-19 season and to 4 the season after[29].

However, there are currently no plans for the EPL to follow the recommendations of the Commission Report and increase the required number of home grown players or to follow the EFL’s lead and introduce a new requirement for “club-trained” or “club-developed” players in match day squads.

 

Are the current home grown player requirements an effective means of producing elite English-qualified players?

Until the EFL Rules and Regulations are formally amended in advance of the 2018-19 season, there remains some uncertainty as to precisely how the new requirements will be worded and interpreted. 

For example, will the definition of club-developed player extend to former academy players who are currently registered at their clubs regardless of their age (i.e., a 28 year old former academy star who is now a club stalwart)? It is likely that will be the case, not least given that it aligns with the EFL’s stated goal of increasing the number of academy prospects progressing to first team football. In addition, whilst one would expect it to be the case, a question mark remains as to whether, should they also meet the necessary criteria, the designated club-developed player will also qualify as a home grown player and count towards both of the match day squad “quotas”.

At a time when just 31%[30] of those starting in EPL matches during the 2015-16 season were qualified to represent England, there are also question marks as to how effective the current home grown player requirements in both the EFL and EPL are, or indeed the impending club developed player requirement in the EFL will be, in producing elite young players who qualify to represent the English national football team.

For example, given that the home grown player requirements apply regardless of nationality, a young starlet could qualify to play for another nation and still be classified as a home grown player in both the EFL and EPL and as a club-developed player in the EFL. By way of example, Cesc Fabregas, who progressed through Arsenal FC’s academy to become a shining light in the first team (thereby fulfilling the requirement to play three seasons or 36 months at a club affiliated with The FA) qualifies as a home grown player for his new side, Chelsea FC. Similarly, following his return to Manchester United FC in August 2016, Paul Pogba qualifies[31] as a home grown player for Jose Mourinho’s side by dint of his time at its academy following his move from Le Havre at the age of 16, despite having moved to Juventus FC in August 2012.

However, given that the current requirements are specifically designed to not benefit or exclude any particular European nationals in order to comply with the requirements on the freedom of movement within the European Single Market, the home grown player requirements that are in place appear to be the best means by which to increase the chances of elite English-qualified talent obtaining opportunities in the first team, whether that be in the EPL or the EFL.

Indeed, the Commission Report noted that, by virtue of the EPL being based in England and Wales, there is a natural bias in the national make up of home grown players towards English and Welsh nationals, with an average of 65% of players who qualify as home grown players being English-qualified[32].

The likes of Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Jamie Vardy are prominent examples of players who have honed their talents in the EFL and subsequently risen through the leagues to become both established Premiership and international players. The EFL, EPL and The FA will no doubt be hoping that the trio are merely the tip of an iceberg of English-qualified talent and that, in time, the home grown and club-developed player requirements will help bring them to the surface. 

 

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About the Author

Phil Bonner

Phil Bonner

Phil Bonner is an associate at Centrefield LLP, a sports and media law boutique based in Manchester, England.

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