The paucity of English talent in the Premier League has been laid bare in a Guardian investigation that reveals the alarmingly small number of players Roy Hodgson has to pick from and how little time those eligible for the national team are spending on the pitch, compared with other leading European countries.
A week after Richard Scudamore insisted that the Premier League bore no responsibility for England's dismal performances at the European Under-21 Championship and Under-20 World Cup this summer, the study highlights the extent of the problem gripping the national game, in particular the chronic shortage of English players performing at the highest level.
The key findings from the 2012-13 season show:
• Only 189 English players featured in the Premier League and as few as 88 of them appeared in more than half the games
• As many as 40 of the 189 players failed to make five appearances
• In La Liga and Ligue 1 Spanish and French players made almost twice as many appearances as their counterparts in England
• The top four Premier League clubs used only 29 English players between them. Wigan were the worst offenders in the Premier League while Liverpool and Norwich selected more English players than anyone else.
The figures, provided by Opta, paint a bleak picture and raise major questions about the direction of English football, as well as the merits of the case Scudamore put forward when he leapt to the Premier League's defence. The Premier League chief executive said: "There were 210 players qualified to play for England playing in the Premier League last year. We ought to be able to find 11 to take the field to do well. Those players are playing week in, week out against the world's best talent."
Yet the majority of English players are not performing week in, week out in the Premier League; they are playing no more than bit-part roles, struggling to impose themselves at clubs where opportunities are rare. In some cases squads are overstocked with foreigners; others will argue that managers, under pressure from impatient owners, are too preoccupied with short-term success and the financial rewards that brings to worry about developing homegrown players. And then there is the sobering argument that the talent pool has dried up.
"The players aren't there – England Under-20s' and Under-21s' results proved that," says Bryan Jones, Aston Villa's academy director, who is dismissive of Scudamore's claim that more English-qualified players are coming through academies. "Quantity of players is on the increase but not quality – 50% of the players in academies are not good enough, nowhere near good enough."
When it comes to discovering players, bringing them through the academy and making appearances in the Premier League, which is the ultimate goal, Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham were at the top of the list last season. In many cases, though, the figures make for grim reading.
Change is in the air but Jones says he has "grave concerns" about the Under-21 league and "whether it will be competitive enough to develop players to cope with the gap between youth and first-team football, which we know is huge." One of his solutions is to introduce feeder clubs, as is the case in other countries, where younger players are exposed to the challenges of senior first-team football earlier.
As it stands, the pathways are few and far between, leaving Hodgson working with one hand tied behind his back. The 189 English players in the top flight last season (the Premier League has not provided a list to show how Scudamore arrived at 210) made 3,411 appearances between them. Contrast those figures with La Liga (332 players eligible for the national team/6,391 appearances), Ligue 1 (320/6,274), Serie A (269/5,070) and the Bundesliga (224/4,035) and the difference is huge.
The chasm is magnified at the top of the game, where only 29 English players appeared for Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal last season. The top four clubs in Spain (60 players eligible for the national team), Germany (52), France (70) and Italy (52) were much less dependent on foreign talent to achieve success.
The Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan was introduced two years ago to redress the balance and improve the standard of youth development at the top clubs but already problems are beginning to surface, in particular in relation to the compensation system, which Jones predicts will "kill development". Under the new rules Villa will receive an initial fee of only £209,000 for Dan Crowley, a 15-year-old England youth international who has joined Arsenal.
"If the Premier League think we will produce English players and then lose them at the age of 16 – that's not happening," Jones says. "Aston Villa will now, if it doesn't change, start to go into Europe to get players to develop. We have already met with the manager and the board of directors and talked about that. My job is to produce players for Aston Villa, not for Arsenal to pinch them. What is the point in developing players for eight or nine years only to then lose them cheaply? That will kill the game and it will kill development."