With the English Premier League less than two weeks away, it’s time for IntelligentSoccer.com to get over its World Cup hangover. There’s a lot of preseason story lines (Are Manchester City title contenders? Is Cesc leaving or staying? Is Chelsea too old to repeat?) but what’s getting a lot of attention is the new 25-man roster rule.
The commentary about the new rule has been ridiculous. I’ve heard everything from the rule will help develop young English players, will hurt the development of young English players, 25 players isn’t enough for an extended period of time, it will cost senior player jobs, it helps smaller clubs, it hurts bigger club and so on. It seems everyone is just guessing what the consequences of this rule is going to be.
Everyone, except people who play Football Manager. As someone who plays the terribly addicting football simulation way too much, I know how to work the system. I’ve played multiple seasons with the 25-senior player limit so I fancy myself an expert.
First let’s go over the rule:
1. By the end of each transfer window, a team must name a 25-man squad made up of at least eight home grown players. A home grown player is anyone who trained in England or Wales for three years before their 21st birthday. So international players like John O’Shea (Irish), Charles N’Zogbia (French) or, the most cliched example, Cesc Fabergas (Spanish), are all home grown players.
2. Players 21 or under are eligible to play even if they aren’t named to the 25-man squad.
3. If a team doesn’t have eight home grown players, then it must have a smaller squad. For example, if a team has only seven home grown players then they have to name a 24-man squad (six = 23-man, five = 22 man and so on).
It’s a change, but not a radical change from the old system (which had no restrictions). I’m too lazy to check, but it wouldn’t surprise me if all 20 Premiership teams last year had eight home grown players in their top 25 last year. That said, if not handled correctly a team could put itself in a bad situation.
There’s two different kinds of teams in the EPL; teams that play in Europe and everyone else. Depending on what group a team belongs to determines how they need to handle the new rule.
Teams that play in Europe
EPL teams that have qualified for the Champions League or the Europa League are already forced to deal with roster restrictions. The European rule is even more difficult, because at least four of the eight home grown players have to be trained at the club (this is going to be a minor problem for Tottenham). But it’s one thing to have roster restrictions for a handful of European matches, it another for a 38 match league season.
The key is to have impact players that are 21 or younger. Counting the league, Carling Cup, FA Cup and European matches, EPL teams in Europe are going to play around 50 matches a season. That’s too many for a 25-man squad, so the top-notch teams needs three or four quality 21 and under players to expand the squad size.
Here’s a team-by-team look at roster situations of the top clubs:
Chelsea — Is in really bad shape. Not just when it comes to 21 and under players, but there isn’t a team hurt more by the eight home grown player rule than Chelsea. Right now, if Chelsea had to name eight home grown players, my guess they would be: Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ross Turnbull, Daniel Sturridge, Scott Sinclair, Michael Mancienne and Sam Hutchinson. Ideally, Sinclair, Mancienne and Hutchinson (who are all 21 or younger) should probably go out on loan, but, as of now, Chelsea will have to keep them as home grown players. This leaves unproven players like Gael Kakuta and Patrick van Aanholt as the “extra” 21 or under players.
Let me wrap this analysis up in one sentence: Unless Chelsea expands its squad in the coming weeks or gets lucky when it comes to injuries, its lack of the depth will cost it the title this season.
Manchester United — Unlike Chelsea, United is in solid shape. It has about ten quality home grown players and handful of 21 and under players to help expand the size of the squad (The twins, Federico Macheda, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck).
Arsenal — Even with Arsene Wenger complaining about the new rule, Arsenal should have the deepest team in the league. Right now I count seven home grown players that are over 21: Cesc Fabergas, Gael Clichy, Nicklas Bendtner, Alex Song (I think, the dates make it close), Denilson, Theo Walcott and Vitto Mannone. That means one 21 or under player (Aaron Ramsey, Jack Willshire, Kieran Gibbs, Carlos Vela or Armand Traore) will have to be named as one of the senior home grown players. After Wenger makes another couple of signings, Arsenal should have a 28- or 29-man squad.
Tottenham — Doesn’t have a problem getting to eight home grown players, but has only two quality players 21 or under — Gareth Bale and new signing Sandro (there’s also Danny Rose and John Bostock if you’re feeling generous). Tottenham didn’t play in Europe last season, so the compacted fixture list will effect them and 27 players, plus some very fringe under 21′s, might not be enough.
There was talk about there not being enough space for Jonathan Woodgate, but unless Harry Redknapp signs a couple more players Woodgate (if healthy enough) should get a spot.
Manchester City — The Citizens have over a dozen home grown players.
What’s a minor problem is it only has just two Premiership quality players 21 or under (Vladimir Weiss and Jerome Boateng) so it will be playing with, essentially, a 27-man squad in the EPL (a little small).
City is going to have to sell players. I count 29 senior players, so Manchester City needs to sell at least four and probably more since City will buy a couple more players. Shaleum Logan is gone (at least on loan) for sure; forwards Felipe Caciedo and Jo are also gone; Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz are probably out the door; Craig Bellamy sounds like he’s leaving too.
It’s going to be a busy month for Manchester City.
Aston Villa — Almost the entire team is home grown players. Villa also has about 10 under 21 players that could probably hold their own in the Premiership, with Fabian Delph highlighting the group. Villa has roster space for more players (I count 21 senior players over 21) so Martin O’Neil can do some shopping if he has the money.
Liverpool — A lot like Aston Villa. Easily enough home grown players and plenty of “good enough” 21′s and under (N’Gog, Pacheco). Even without Javier Mascherano leaving (though, he surely is), there are roster spots open if Roy Hodgson wants to add some bodies. Which he needs to do.
Teams that don’t play in Europe
Things are a lot simpler for teams not playing on the continent.
Of course, more players the better, but with only a domestic schedule a 25-man roster is lsrge enough unless there’s a serious injury crisis.
Of the other 13 Premiership teams, 12 of them easily meet the eight player home grown rule. The exception is Blackburn. (Note: Though, Blackpool really needs players no matter where they’re from.)
The Rovers have more than eight home grown players, but only six of those are Premiership veterans. They are: Paul Robinson, David Dunn, Jason Roberts, Keith Andrews, David Hoilett and Jason Brown. Blackburn has some younger players that can fill the other two spots, but it sure wouldn’t hurt if Sam Allardyce brought in a home grown player or two.
Will the new squad restrictions produce more quality English players?
The irony of the the rule is it will probably do the exact opposite of what the English FA hopes it does. It’s very possible there will be fewer quality young English players produced with this system, not more. There’s two reasons why:
1. Clubs will be hesitant to send talented young players on loan. The most important thing for a young player to do is play. But now teams will rely on players to stick with the squad if there’s an injury crisis. An example is Tottenham’s Danny Rose. He should probably go out on loan like he did the last year, but now Tottenham needs Rose to stay at White Hart Lane so the club has a little extra depth.
2. Soon, clubs will be doing what Arsenal has traditionally done. They’ll scout Europe for the best teenagers and bring them to England before they’re 18, so they’ll eventually qualify as a home grown player. Instead of focusing on making young English players better, clubs, especially the rich clubs, will go out and snatch the best young European footballers so they can one day be a home grown player. Then they’ll sell the home grown players they don’t want to Premiership teams in need of a home grown player. It’s easier to buy a good young player than it is to make one.
I’m sure some of the mid-table teams will take the Everton approach and pour money into their youth teams to produce young talent. It could make a difference for the national team. But in the end I expect the roster restrictions will invite clubs to buy more young foreign talent, not less.