If Greg Dyke of the English Football Association has his way, the overseas pathway for young Australian footballers is about to become a lot more difficult.
The Guardian reports that the FA has developed proposals that will ban Football League clubs from “signing non-EU players altogether,” while banning Premier League clubs from sending them out on loan. The reason? Preventing mediocre foreigners from swamping home-grown English talent.
To balance these rules, the FA is making it easier for top internationals from non-EU countries to play in England. Rather than having to play 75 per cent of matches in the past two years, for a top-30 ranked country, the limit has been lowered to 30 per cent.
From the English perspective, one could argue that this will merely increase the footballing arms race between the top clubs. To gain an edge, clubs will sign more top-30 players and possibly promote even less English talent as the stakes get higher. A lot more spending and a lot more unsuccessful World Cup campaigns.
From the Australian perspective, as a non-EU nation currently ranked outside the top 30 and with little prospect of returning soon, it is easy to see how these proposals could be disastrous.
Consider the Socceroos line-up against Saudi Arabia. Where would Bailey Wright be without Preston North End? Where would Massimo Luongo be without Swindon? Had he not been allowed to sign for League One side Bristol City, would Gus Hiddink have turned Luke Wilkshire into an 80-cap Socceroo?
And the list hardly ends there. Adam Taggart would not be currently pursuing his footballing dreams at Fulham, as Adrian Leijer did before him. Even our captain, Mile Jedinak, would not have been allowed to sign for then-Championship side Crystal Palace and develop into the leader and player he is today.
While some disdain the quality of the English game and prefer that our youth head to Germany or the Netherlands to develop their craft, there can be no denying that the English pathway has been crucial to developing the games of many a Socceroo, both past and present.
The lower leagues offer a tough, uncompromising brand of football, and the constant pressure of relegation reinforces accountability and discipline that the A-League as yet cannot provide. And the familiarity of playing in an English-speaking country can be a great comfort for young lads away from home.
Losing such a valued pathway to the top, of course, will not be a death knell to Australian football. But if these proposals succeed they will make the climb up the rankings that much more difficult.