Playing away from home
The impression given by the media is that foreign imports are more important to the English Premier League than to the other big European leagues of Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Depending on how you define foreign that isn`t entirely true.
Figures published by the PFPO (Professional Football Players` Observatory) for last season map the number of expatriates playing outside their native country in the big 5 European Leagues. As members of the European Union, whose citizens are free to live and work in other member countries, it is debatable whether movement of players between EU countries should be considered any more foreign than a Welshman playing in the English League. As in other fields though the English seem to have embraced this Europeanisation more enthusiastically than their counterparts.
The figures show a total of 1124 expatriates, from 86 countries, playing in the major leagues of Italy, Germany, England, France and Spain. Of these 434 are EU citizens working in other member states. 177 of these play in England, 97 in Germany, 65 in Spain, 63 in Italy and 32 in France. Of this total 103 are French, a half of which, 52, play in England. Holland 42 and Portugal 41 are the next largest EU expatriate contributors which can be fairly seen as players seeking to ply their trade in bigger, more competitive and lucrative leagues. Other than France relatively few players from the major leagues play outside their own leagues; 17 Spaniards (all playing in England last season), 15 Italians, 12 Germans and 3 English.
Of the 1124 expatriates, including EU players, 305 play in England, 244 in Germany, 213 in Italy, 195 in Spain and 168 in France. But strip out EU players enjoying the freedoms of European citizenship and the numbers look a little different. There are a total of 690 non EU expatriates plying their trade in the big 5, 151 in Italy, 147 in Germany, 136 in France, 130 in Spain and 128 in England. While the EU supplies the biggest number of players from within its 27 member countries the largest number of imported players come from just 3 South American countries, Brazil 163 (far and away the biggest single contributor of football talent to the main European Leagues), Argentina 104 and Uruguay 43. These 3 countries provide 310 (27%) of all overseas players. Central and South American countries supply 358 players(32%)in total - 112 play in Italy, 98 in Spain, 58 in Germany, 48 in France and 42 in England.
Africa is the other significant contributor of players at 156 of which 68 play in France, 33 in England, 24 in Germany, 18 in Spain and 13 in Italy. Combined with those players from Central and South America that represents 46% of all foreign players.
These figures are an interesting record of social mobility in the game but I am not sure there are any conclusions to be drawn from them other than the EPL takes more advantage of EU membership in this regard than other EU members. That is almost certainly due to more restrictive labour laws here than exists in the other major leagues allowing them to benefit more readily from cheaper foreign imports than the EPL. If anything it is harder for a foreign player, unless an EU citizen, to play in England than in Spain, Italy, Germany or France. If these countries tightened up their labour laws then the competition for talent would ensure that the number of expatriate EU players would be more even throughout the leagues though in reality all leagues rely on imported players to a not too dissimilar extent.
If Uefa`s apparent concern about foreign migration is really only about encouraging the development of talent within their domestic leagues it should first seek to close the doors to non-EU players plying their trade in Europe but then how much poorer would football in Europe be without the skills of the Brazilians, Argentineans, Africans and other talents that enrich our leagues? How much more does the game here benefit and encourage others to take up the game watching the skills of players like Messi for example?
Those skilled and dedicated enough to developing their talents should be allowed to be rewarded for that skill and dedication wherever in the world that maybe. If nothing else it`s a good way of distributing wealth from the game to those that are contributing much to its creation.
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