Home grown. Usually when you hear this term, it's about Auntie Mildred and her prized tomatoes, that have taken weeks of watering and Prince Charles talking to them, to produce something that doesn't look like the things you typically see adorning the Tesco shelves in their chemically enhanced bright red livery, but because it is her own creation, they have this satisfying taste to them that nothing you can purchase in a supermarket could ever replicate. They're yours, created by your soil, fed by your watering can, and sat in your greenhouse, spawned by your tender love and care, the fruits of your loom.
And it's maybe why, after many years of demand for cheap produce, there is now a commodity for organic, non GM, non-mass catering food stuffs, and hell, we don't even mind paying a premium for it, especially if the chickens had a lovely time grazing in Norfolk fields, or the coffee picker hasn't got to pay Mr Nescafe for the privilege of finding him his beans. Home grown, carefully developed and with further potential for fruition is a major coup for us these days.
And it is this metaphor that I am now going to assimilate with the current desire for players in the Premier League who have been manufactured from a young age in the burgeoning Academies within this fine nation, and the ludicrousness of the system that is producing the current conveyor belt of talent.
I watch a lot of youth football; I am even involved in it in a small way, but that is right down at the bottom of the football pyramid- In your local parks, on the training ground, moulding young local budding players into better people, and better footballers. But while I have gripes about the overall structure within English football at the moment, it is the very top of this pyramid with which I am particularly disheartened.
Manchester City at present have a particular lust for what the Football Association (FA) constitutes as «home grown» players. This, despite owning a £200m football academy that has yet to churn out a talent consistently performing at the highest level in the game, and having released three players at the end of the season that complied under the FA stipulation. Yet it is not the blue side of Manchester with which I despair (at least not in this article...). No, it is that the FA, despite bemoaning the lack of English talent coming through all the Academies, it is that their «home grown» status classes nationality as immaterial. This is not some UKIP propaganda, and indeed, if you look back on years past and see some of the overseas talent that has graced our shores, you may wonder what the point of this article is. I am not against foreigners plying their trade over here, far from it. But if the FA is truly serious about enhancing the quality of English players being produced (after all, that is the main reason the home grown player laws within Premier League squads was adopted by the FA), then there has to be a quota of solely English players being developed by development squads, and a cap on other nationalities making up the rest of the squad. You cannot have it that the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy qualify as «home grown» when neither of them will ever represent England at any level, whereas the likes of Eric Dier, who was born in England, and plays for England Under 21's, but as he trained with Sporting Lisbon, having moved to Portugal as a six year old with his family, doesn't class as 'one of our own'.
It is with this that the ex-Director General of the BBC , now FA chairman Greg Dyke, plans to radically overhaul the present system, and make it more accessible for English players to come fully through and be competing in the most competitive and financially rewarding league in the World, of which we are rightly proud of. He wants to change the number of home grown players in the 25 man squads, from 8, up to 12, and he wants to lower the age at which you qualify as home grown. At present, you only have to complete 3 years at an English club before the age of 21 to qualify, but Dyke wants this age to be 18. And as EU laws restrict (not stop, but seriously limit) the transfers of non EU players under the age of 18, due to employment law and child slavery, that would surely boost the numbers of young English players that could potentially make it all the way from the bottom to the top.
It's one of the reasons why the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, and Andy Carroll before him, have had over inflated price tags wrapped around their necks; because an established English player holds somewhat of a premium in the market. It's like finding a goose egg in a chicken's nest- it's so rare to see one, that when they are available, you must pay over the odds (or fight the goose off) to get it.
The simple fact is that neither the Premier League, nor the FA to a certain extent, have an ulterior motive to improve the England team. Richard Scudamore and Rupert Murdoch in their respective ivory towers are far too important and influenced by the pound signs fluttering in their eyes to give two hoots about whether a young Englishman flourishes for club or country. Plus also, the financial incentives of winning, qualifying for Europe, or at the very least staying in England's top division, in addition to the influx of foreign coaches employed by Premier League clubs (and increasingly in the lower leagues too), means that teams are reticent to give youth a chance, and if they do, how many of them go on to succeed and appear regularly? And why should clubs pay to create a player from scratch, when they can scour Europe and beyond for cheaper players who can fill the void?
And while Greg Dyke may say the right things, does he have the backbone to enforce his changes? Only time will tell, but I feel like I already know the answer to that question.
So yes, home grown. It might be a treat every once in a while, but don't expect Auntie Mildred's tomatoes to be stocking Tesco's supermarkets any time soon.