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‘Why foreign players migrate and the effect their involvement has had on English football since the inception of the Premier League’ (Part 2)

Following on from part one of this blog we’ll take a look at some of the reasons and explanations for this dramatic intensification of foreign player migration to Europe, and particularly to England.

Elite labour migration is now an established component of global sports (Maguire & Pearton, 2000), however national and transcontinental migration of highly skilled workers is not a new phenomenon (Lanfranchi & Taylor, 2001), and has become a prominent feature in global sports (Maguire, 1999; Maguire et al., 2000) such as association football.  Migration in football is as old as the game itself (Taylor, 2006), and these migratory patterns have been identified as far back as the late 19th century in which heralded the inception of the Football League. However, these migrations were largely undergone by other British players from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (Moorhouse, 1994). International recruitment of foreign players to England became more prominent during the post-war period, with an influx of migrants from the Commonwealth nations such as Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and the U.S, all of which shared lingual, colonial, or trading relations with England (McGovern, 2002).

Fast forward to the inaugural season of the Premier League in 1992/93 and further research shows us that during the past 20 years we have seen a dramatic intensification in the migration of foreign players to England (Elliott, 2012; Poli et al., 2011), of whom, have been described as one of the most ‘ubiquitous’ factors towards the continuing globalisation of the game within the 21st century (Elliott, 2012). In-fact on the first day of the 1992/93 Premier League season there were only 11 foreign players in the starting line-ups for Premier League clubs. Since then this number has grown exponentially, and by the 2001/02 season foreign players were the new majority. The Images that follow give a great indication of just how diverse our footballing culture has become in England over the past two decades.

There are a number of reasons that have been established for this dramatic intensification of foreign player migration to England, and they are not just limited to economic factors (Elliott & Harris, 2011). 1990 foreign playersWith the reinstatement of British clubs into European competitions following a ban in the late 1980’s, and the establishment of the prestigious Champions League cup competition (Maguire & Pearton, 2000), complete with its subsequent high levels of economic reward for both clubs and players we begin to see the ‘pull’ factors at work. Furthermore, the Marc Bosman European court case in December of 1995 resulted in the abandonment of quota systems allowing a greater level of freedom of contractual movement for foreign players within EU countries (Taylor, 2006), as it was proven to be in direct violation of Article 39 of the EC Treaty (now Article 45) of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union law.

Another prominent feature of the migration followed the Taylor Report in 1990 which resulted in British football becoming a much safer environment resulting in foreign players beginning to show increased interests in migrating to England to ply their trade – which was in stark contrast to the 1980’s where British football was on its knees dying a hooligans death – and is arguably due to a dramatic influx of revenue made available through new media and sponsorship deals (Magee & Sugden, 2002) that Premier League clubs now enjoy as a result of their alliance with BskyB (Maguire & Pearton, 2000). Consequently, this had also lead to the dramatically increased and inflated salaries that professional footballers now demand. The previous has become a popular explanation amongst some academics who believe it the principle reason for migration, and describe it as the ‘mercenary’ (Maguire, 1996) desire to secure the lucrative financial rewards offered by clubs (Andreff, 2009). This desire for financial reward is, however, a more appropriate singular suggestion for migration outside of the sporting context, as highly skilled workers often migrate in order to exploit the positive wage disparities available abroad (Fischer et al., 1997).

2009 foreign players

The ‘mercenary’ desire may undoubtedly influence some players’ decision to migrate; however, it cannot be described as the only antecedent that influences these choices. Research has shown us that the practice of players ‘following the money’ (Maguire & Pearton, 2000) is part of a broader set of processes that incorporate political, historical, cultural, and geographical patterns.

There has also been a wealth of research (Elliott, 2012; Maguire and Stead, 1998; Molnar and Maguire, 2008; Stead and Maguire, 2000) that further examines the motives for the migration of foreign players, including their need to seek professional sporting experiences, coupled with the desire to test one’s ability at the highest levels – something that they cannot always achieve at the currently level offered to them in their native land. On the other hand, some players migrate only to where it is easier to become culturally assimilated, which perhaps explains why the British rarely move abroad. However, the majority of players who migrate aim to gravitate towards the core in football e.g. the Premier League or one of the other ‘top 5’ leagues in Europe.

Conversely, there are also many ‘push’ factors which force migration, including civil wars such as the many that disrupted Yugoslavia between 1991-1999. This initiated the movements abroad of many players from Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Serbia (Maguire & Pearton, 2000) to Germany which is now why we see the Budesliga overflowing with Eastern European talent. Furthermore, the over-production of indigenous talent can often result in a serious lack of playing opportunities for indigenous players, thereby forcing them to leave to find pastures new to earn a living. Finally, in some cases even being expelled from a particular league or even being exiled from the country it-self has forced some players to find a new country to ply their trade (Elliott, 2012).

In summary we can see that there is a wide variety of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that are not just limited to the huge sums of financial reward that have contributed to the mass migration of foreign players to European shores, but in some cases extreme events such as civil war are the catalyst. I believe it is important to understand and highlight the relationship that BskyB broadcasting has had on English football and migration since the Premier Leagues inaugural season. A tremendous amount of wealth has come from the relationship, and still there seems to be no plateau in the broadcasting rights fees. For the next three years BskyB and BT have paid the Premier League an incredible £3.018billion for the domestic TV rights, a remarkable 70% increase over the previous deal of £1.782billion, which is allowing Premier League club the license to dominate the foreign transfer markets, but although frequent are the calls for quotas systems and limitations to foreign player involvement, all in the name of ‘preserving English football’ of course. We must surely ask ourselves would we have the weekly spectacle we have enjoyed for the past two decades without the influx of these talented footballers?

In part 3 of this blog I will further analyse and address the aforementioned perceived negative effects that foreign players have had on the development of indigenous talent in this country, and will attempt to uncover whether these perceptions actually hold any truth.


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