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Jul 12, 2013

England hit by lack of talent, PL fixtures

The immediate and future prospects of the England national team are suffering because of big Premier League fixtures being scheduled before crucial World Cup qualifiers and the dwindling number of quality homegrown players at Roy Hodgson's disposal.

England, who face a fight to qualify from Group H - they are two points behind leaders Montenegro but have a game in hand - play Moldova and Ukraine in September and Montenegro and Poland the following month.

Manager Hodgson had wanted to get the players together on the Saturday before each set of games, which will be played on the following Friday and Tuesday - but the schedule means that will be impossible.

Five days before the national team face Moldova, Liverpool host Manchester United and Arsenal take on Spurs. The following month, when England begin another double-header with a crucial game against Montenegro, Chelsea and Arsenal will be in action.

That means Hodgson will be unable to get his full squad together until the Monday before each set of games.

It again throws into focus the balance - or lack of one - between the interests of the Premier League and those of the national team, with Hodgson and the Football Association having voiced frustration at the fixture congestion.

Premier League officials, however, say the situation is within FIFA rules, which stipulate that clubs must release players by the Sunday night for international matches the following Friday.

Speaking after the domestic fixtures were published last month, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said: "It's our international confederations that have squeezed the calendar, not us."

Meanwhile, Opta figures have shown that Hodgson must pick his squads from an increasingly thin pool of English players who are playing regularly in the top flight.

Last season, just 189 English players featured in the Premier League - but only 88 of those played in even half the games while 40 did not make a Premier League appearance at all.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal used only 29 English players between them, with Norwich City and Liverpool picking more English players than any other club.

The overall picture provides a stark contrast to the top divisions in Spain and France, where home-grown players made nearly twice as many appearances as their English counterparts in 2012-13.

Scudamore had denied that the Premier League, with its abundance of players from overseas, had been to blame for England's dismal performances in both the Under-21 European Championships and the Under-20 World Cup this summer.

He said: "There were 210 players qualified to play for England playing in the Premier League last year, and we ought to be able to find 11 to take the field and do well. Those players are playing week in, week out against the world's best talent."

That analysis, however, was rejected by Aston Villa's academy director Bryan Jones, who told the Guardian: "The players aren't there. The England Under-20s' and Under-21s' results proved that.

"Quantity of players is on the increase, but not quality. Fifty per cent of the players in academies are not good enough - nowhere near good enough."

And he warned that the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan, intended to boost home-grown youth development, could instead have the opposite effect.

The compensation system means players, developed expensively over a number of years, can be poached by bigger clubs for minimal fees, and Jones said: "If the Premier League think we will produce English players and then lose them at the age of 16, that's not happening.

"Aston Villa will now, if it doesn't change, start to go into Europe to get players to develop. What is the point in developing players for eight or nine years only to lose them cheaply? That will kill the game, and it will kill development."

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