In defence of cosmopolitan football

Simon Kuper, the FT‘s sport columnist, guts the case for protectionism in football:

British panic over immigrants has spread to football. English clubs prefer foreign players because they are better. Arsenal has almost dispensed with Englishmen altogether. English footballers accounted for only 37 per cent of total minutes played in this season’s Premiership, according to Dutch magazine Voetbal International. To some degree, English soccer is disappearing… Or one could say they get a massive 37 per cent, more than any other nationality in what is arguably the world’s toughest league.

Rather than playing too little top-class club soccer, Englishmen probably play too much. The Premier League is becoming a global league, seen on television everywhere, soccer’s equivalent of the US’s National Basketball Association. So players earn millions. So the league is all-consuming. Players have to give everything, every match.

A Croatian playing in a smaller league can husband his energy so as to peak in international matches. But English players must peak for their clubs. That means they often start international matches tired and unfocused…

In any case, English supporters want foreign players. Mr Platini wonders whether Liverpudlians can identify with a Liverpool team packed with foreigners. Judging by the Premiership’s record crowds paying record ticket prices, fans identify enough. England can have either an excellent league or an English league, but not both. Fans apparently prefer excellence.