User:Daniel.Higgins/Foreign ownership and foreign players: the impact on the English Premier League and its teams

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Here is a link to my presentation on the same topic as the essay. Please leave your opinions and comments on the video. Foreign Involvement in the English Premier League

Lamp post label: The divide between the fans and owners (the Glazers) at Manchester United. Image by author: Sunfox, 2010

Since the inception of the English Premier League (EPL) in the 1992/1993 season the percentage of English players that start matches has dropped by 47 percent (Walters et al., 2008). This essay will examine the impact of foreign team ownership of particular English Premier League football clubs and the involvement of foreign players. The basis of this essay will question the impact foreign involvement has on the EPL and English football in general (including the English national team). Arguments have shown both positive and negative impacts of foreign ownership. Foreign ownership it injects larger finances at the team’s discretion resulting in attracting better international players and tougher competition. This influx of international players may be terrific for the League, however, it may have a significantly detrimental bearing on the local players that the English national team is comprised of (Walters et al., 2008). The positives and the negatives of foreign ownership and players will be examined. This essay will encompass all aspects of foreign ownership by looking at the commodification of the EPL and that means for the league and English football. It can then be determined whether foreign involvement in the EPL is positive or negative for the English Premier League, English football and world football. After assessing foreign involvement in the EPL the comparison will be made to see how foreign involvement could benefit or hinder the A-League in Australia.

Sky News - English Football: Why Aren't We Winners Anymore? (Sky News, 2008)


The EPL is one of the premier division football competitions in the world (EPL Website). This means there is a large amount of interest from international parties, including players, owners and managers. This has sparked arguments whether international involvement and influence results in positive or negative implications for the EPL and English football in general. This essay will analyse the politics in the EPL, in particular, the involvement of foreign players. It will also examine the business attraction of the EPL through ownership and why foreign owners are becoming more prominent in the EPL. Business in the EPL will be examined including how the EPL is changing through commodification. Throughout the essay there will be examples of how the business and politics of the EPL intersect through their influences upon each other and what it all means for English football. After the analyses of the EPL and English football, some of the key understandings will be applied locally to the relatively new A-League competition in Australia.

The English Premier League[edit]

The English Premier League (EPL) kicked off in August 1992 after a reformation of English Football (EPL History). Toward the end of the 1980’s clubs were growing concerned with the expenses of recommendations to improve stadium facilities and the difficulties in attracting top players. By 1988 there were 10 clubs that had threatened to break away from the English First Division in an attempt to optimise television revenues. In 1992 the EPL was formed as a commercially independent competition separate from the English Football Association (EPL History). Since the first match in 1992 the EPL has grown and succeeded in becoming one of the premier football competitions in the world. Currently there is approximately 70 percent of the worlds estimated 2.08 billion football fans following the EPL, making it the most watched football league in the world (EPL News). Since the beginning of the EPL much has changed within the league. With many of the club owners, managers and players in the league coming from overseas it questions the locality of the competition. Is the EPL England’s top football league, or is the EPL the world’s top football league merely hosted in England? In 1992 there were only 11 foreign players (not British or Irish) in the entire EPL (EPL History). By 2009 the average number of foreign players per team was 13 (BBC News, 2009). In 1999 Chelsea was the first ever club to have a starting line up completely comprised of foreign players (The Guardian, 2001). Then in 2005, Arsenal was the first ever EPL club to have a 16 player match squad completely comprised of foreign players (BBC News, 2005). It is not only the players in the EPL coming from foreign nations, it is also the club owners. As recently as 2011 there was an EPL club takeover of Arsenal Football Club by Stan Kroenke. Kroenke already owned a significant stake in the club and completed a takeover by increasing his stake 62.89 percent. Since the completion of this takeover it meant that half of the teams in the EPL are owned by foreigners (The Independent, 2011). The ‘big four’ premier league teams, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are all owned by foreign individuals, families or companies (The Independent, 2011).

English Premier League politics of foreign involvement[edit]

Many football analysts have attributed the recent poor performance of the English national football team to the ever increasing number of foreign players in the local top division (EPL). When England failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 competition this argument was further fuelled. Taylor (2007) argued that the failure to reach the pinnacle of the Euro 2008 competition was a direct result of the lack of English footballers in English football. Further to this, Taylor (2007), also argued that the ever increasing number of foreign owners in the EPL could compound this theory of detrimental foreign influence. Taylor (2007) argued that foreign ownership could lead to foreign management methods and further amounts of foreign players entering the EPL. Politically there is debate whether the theories that foreign influences are negative on the English national team are outweighed by the economic positives for the EPL and England itself (Dobson et al., 2001). There have also been contrary arguments from influential figures in the world football scene. Vincente Del Bosque, head coach for the Spainish national football team, has voiced his opinion that foreign players and managers are not detrimental to English football, and further to this, they are beneficial to English football (Del Bosque, 2010). Because the foreign players and managers that are involved in the EPL are generally of an extremely high quality, Del Bosque believes they assist in the growth and improvement of English football (Del Bosque, 2010). Yet it seems that there is a side of caution about the number of foreign players in the EPL. In 1999 the Home Office, England’s department that controls immigration, constricted the rules for allowing foreign footballers (outside of the European Union) to gain the necessary work permits to play in England. They did this in response to concerns that English footballers were being overlooked by clubs, with foreign players being prefered (GNN, 1999). It is difficult to determine, from the arguments put forward, whether foreign influence on English football is detrimental or beneficial to English football. However, it is evident that English football is currently in a position where it has the opportunity to choose. It is hard to imagine that foreign influence should be eliminated from English football, yet for English football to succeed the amount of foreign influence (number of foreign players, owners and managers) should not eclipse the lead position that England currently holds. There will continue to be different opinions on this matter arguing for the extremes of complete foreign involvement or exclusion, yet there needs to be a balance to ensure the success of English football and its respective first division, the EPL. The EPL seems to agree with this view. In the EPL squad rules there was the introduction of the ‘home grown’ rule. This rule is a condition that of the 25 players that an EPL side is comprised of, a minimum of eight of those players must be ‘home grown’ (English Premier League Rules). “A home grown player is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21)” (EPL News).

English Premier League business and foreign ownership[edit]

One apparent factor for the increase in foreign players in the EPL is the foreign ownership of various clubs in the English top division. However, there is more to EPL club ownership than its impact on the players involved. Of the 20 current EPL clubs, 10 of them are completely or partially (majority stake) owned by foreign individuals, families or organisations (The Independent, 2011). According to Walters et al. (2008), ownership of EPL teams can be a lucrative investment fuelled mostly by huge amounts of income from television deals. Walters et al. (2008) concern is that the foreign investors are driven solely by business and profiteering alluding to a lack of interest in the success and growth of football in England. It is hard to agree with this perspective as it seems the goals of profit by the club owners and goals of improving football in England are both achieved by good performances of the teams and the EPL. Dobson et al. (2001) argue that there are five main objectives that owners of football clubs use to assess success. They are profit, security, attendance or revenue, playing success and health of the league (Dobson et al., 2001). These goals outlined by Dobson et al. (2001) are all factors that are vital for the success of English football in general as well as the financial success of the owners.

Commodification of the English Premier League[edit]

The increase in foreign ownership can be linked to the commodification of the EPL. According to Nauright et al. (2010) the EPL is now a commercialised league in which foreign owners can focus on a number of different revenue streams. The revenue streams include television rights, premium seating options, club branding and other goods and services related. Nauright et al. (2010) also argue that there is now a contrast within the EPL between the foreign ownership methods of management/marketing and 'Americanization' of the league and the longstanding traditions that exist within English football. It is important for the EPL and its foreign owners, similarly to the issue of foreign players, to incorporate foreign influences in moderation. The increase in foreign ownership has increased the money involved in the league, the ability to attract high profiles players and the exposure of English football globally. The shared goals of English football, the EPL and the foreign owners must respect and nurture the rich history and traditions of English football. The EPL needs to remain an English football focused league with business and profiteering assisting in its success and growth.

What this means for Australia[edit]

The first A-League match in Australia kicked off in August of 2005 (A-League History). More recently, due to success and goals for growth, the A-League expanded to 10 teams (A-League History). The A-League and the EPL are very similar in many ways. They are both the premier competition in their respective countries, they both attract large amounts of media and television attention and they both have foreign involvement from players, managers and owners (A-League Team Profiles)(EPL Team Profiles). This means there is much the A-League can learn from the EPL to assist in the competitions success in the future.

Many of Australian first team (the Socceroos) playing overseas, with some in the EPL (Fourfourtwo Socceroos). Therefore the continual involvement of international players in the EPL is good for Australian football. For Australian players to be playing in arguably the top division in the world is enormously beneficial for Australian football and Socceroo performances. In addition to this, the involvement of high quality international players is good for the A-League as it will assist in raising the level of competition and the abilities of the local Australian players.


To investors, owners, players, managers, fans, the League and English football the most important aspect for each of them is the success of the EPL. The success of the EPL is influenced greatly by international input. The EPL arguably would not be anywhere near the level it is currently without the exceptionally high performing foreign players and its wealthy owners. However, it is important for English football to ensure the EPL remains England's premier competition, not the worlds premier competition merely hosted in England. The foreign owners in the EPL can be seen as an asset for the English football as their extremely high finance levels can attract top players which in turn will improve the level of competition and the English footballers involved. With the relatively new A-League in its infancy in Australia, the further development of the A-League can utilise growth of the EPL for guidance in its own development. Foreign involvement, both players and owners, in the EPL is essential. It is important to utilise it in moderation to ensure the league remains local while it grows and develops through a combination of foreign and local involvement.