The International Trade of Players in European Club Football: Consequences for National Teams

Article excerpt


The international trade of players in European club football does not seem to have had any negative effects on the national teams in the major leagues. Data presented in this article indicate a potentially positive effect for England and no effect for Spain, Italy and Germany. Contrary to this, the national teams in Norway, Greece and France seem to have benefited from exporting players to leagues of better quality than their own domestic leagues.


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Executive summary

This case study analyses some of the effects of the international trade of players in European club football and particularly the consequences for national teams, both the importing and exporting nations. Analyses based on FIFA rankings do not indicate that the growth in the import of foreigners has had a negative impact upon the national teams in the most successful footballing nations. This does not correspond with the idea that foreign players are to blame for the lack of success of a national team--a commonly held attitude among English football fans. Indeed, for England, the correlation coefficient indicates that the opposite effect is more likely, namely that the national team has benefited from importing foreigners to the English Premier League (EPL). During the 2006-07 season 42% of the EPL players were foreigners, assuming players from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland be counted as 'English'. If the latter group had been registered as foreigners, the proportion would increase to 62%. In all of the top four teams (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United), the proportion of foreigners exceeded 50%.

One explanation for this could be that foreign players have improved the learning environment for the English players--i.e. for those who have not been displaced from their clubs. The import of foreigners has enabled them to play with, and against, more talented players than would otherwise have been possible. This, in turn, may have improved their quality as players.

The analyses did not reveal any effects, either positive or negative, for national teams in the other major European football nations, i.e. Spain, Italy and Germany. The data indicates that the national teams in Norway, Greece and even France have benefited from exporting their best footballers to the leagues in the major nations, according to the FIFA ranking. The most likely reason for this is that players from these nations have improved by moving to clubs operating in leagues where the learning environment is better than at home. In turn, this may have benefited their respective national teams.


The international trade of players in European club football is well established. It involves both import from other continents and the movement within Europe of European players. These developments have also influenced from which domestic clubs the national teams recruit their players.

Until the mid-1990s the majority of European internationals played for clubs in their own domestic leagues. Since the start of the 21st century this pattern has been dramatically altered, with football players moving across borders in much the same way as other imports and exports.

Many in the 'football family' have not been happy with this development, mainly through fear that foreigners will displace local talent and thereby reduce the quality of the national team. Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, has argued for introducing an article in a new EU treaty to allow quotas on foreign footballers. Trevor Brooking, the former England international, who by 2007 was the English Football Association's director of development, has expressed similar views. Brooking suggests the growing number of foreign players in the Premier League has deprived domestic talent of first-team football, which, in turn, has had a detrimental effect on England's chances of being successful in major tournaments (Slater, 2007); "The national team has to be under threat--the numbers show that. …


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