Once a month we Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) get dragged to the Alsatian city of Strasbourg, which acts as home to the European Union’s (EU) second parliament (the first in Brussels).
The trip is costly, time consuming, and many of us want to see the seat scrapped. The French government and City of Strasbourg authorities do not agree and the requests of the MEPs have been rejected by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as a result.
Strasbourg is also the birthplace of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has claimed that Britain leaving the European Union (Brexit) would somehow threaten the competitiveness of the Premier League.
Maybe Mr. Wenger feels the need to enter the referendum debate because of a residual loyalty to the EU, especially because of his birthplace. I don’t know. But what I do know is that he is of course talking nonsense.
We can all agree the influx of foreign talent has added not only to the excitement of the Premier League, but also the professionalism within the clubs themselves. Indeed many of the young British players of the 1990s altered their lifestyles because of their foreign peers. This included a greater dedication to training, a better diet and a lot less alcohol!
It has been a privilege to witness players like Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola, and Fernando Torres plying their trade in our stadiums. But players of this ability would continue to do so if we leave the EU. This is not least because British football has big money TV rights associated with it. The biggest in the world. And money attracts talent, as does global fame. The idea that Cristiano Ronaldo might pass up a Manchester United return because of Britain’s political union membership isn’t just wrong, it’s risible. (He’s more likely to spurn it because they’re not very good anymore!)
Currently, the Football Association (FA) does not have the ability to put a cap on how many foreign players a club fields if those players come from within the EU. This is a direct result of the EU’s Freedom of Movement of rules. I think we should have the right to limit the number of foreign players from within the EU and that it would be beneficial to our national game.
I believe we should return to the system of the 1980s and 1990s when clubs had to play a minimum number of home-grown players. This, in effect, would force the big clubs to give young British talent an opportunity to break into the first teams rather than farming them out ‘on loan’ to lower divisions. Imagine the boost that would give to aspiring footballers in this country. Top foreign players like the ones mentioned above would continue to come and play, but big clubs would be forced to be more selective about who they sign from abroad.
And before the Remain side say that such a move would result in a regression of our national game, I would like to remind them that British clubs were far more successful in European competitions when such restrictions existed. Liverpool won the European Cup on several occasions, as did Nottingham Forest, and Aston Villa. Everton, Spurs, Manchester United, Celtic, and Rangers also won European trophies.
Finally, a return to limiting the amount of foreign players a club can field can only lead to an improvement of our own national teams. If young British players are getting the opportunities to play in big games, then the pool of players available for the national teams will grow substantially. They will also be armed with vital experience.
Something similar is already happening in other countries too, with China investing huge sums in homegrown talent. France built the INF ClaireFontane some 30 years ago and is still reaping the rewards of young talent rising through its ranks.
Russia has also introduced a new ‘foreign player’ rule, limiting the number of foreign players a club can field in any given match. The government has concluded that such a change will lead to the development of a stronger national team for the 2018 World Cup, which they of course are hosting.
Unlike Arsene Wenger, I believe limiting the number of foreign footballers that British teams field would be a tremendous boost to young aspiring British players and help ensure that fewer of them end up on the footballing scrap heap.
The best players in the world would of course still want to play in the world’s best league after Brexit. But in fact, it’d give us the chance to tweak our own rules so they would be playing alongside young hungry British players rather than average imports.
I am also convinced if we limited the number of foreign players it would eventually result in stronger England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Irish national teams. Something that I am sure we all want to see – unless of course you are Arsene Wenger.
Paul Nuttall is the Deputy Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP)