The transfer window is closed, and there's an international break this weekend so we've found ourselves with a relative dearth of Arsenal things to talk about. Since the Internet never stops, we thought this would be a great time to look into something that's confusing and important -- the Premier League's Home Grown Player rule. And since it confuses the hell out of me, we brought in some outside help: friend of the blog @Heisenbergkamp, who you might know from The Internet. Without any further ado, here he is.
The Premier League’s Home Grown Player Requirement is often referenced in passing, but very few people seem to actually understand it (myself included, frankly), so I thought I would put my research skills to use and try to actually figure it out. Because I think it’s something fans (and perhaps teams, as well) often overlook, but is a very important factor in how a Premier League team can and should build its squad, and provides some explanation for Arsenal’s recent transfers as well.
What is The Home Grown Player Rule?
Instituted at the beginning of the 2010/11 season, the Home Grown Player Requirement was designed to incentivize (or, more accurately, force) Premier League teams to sign players who were developed within the English League system, or develop such players themselves.
The Requirement is basically this: Each Premier League team can only register 25 players over the age of 21 for that season’s first-team matches. Of those 25 players, no more than 17 can be non-Home Grown Players. In other words, if you want the full complement of 25 over-21 players, you have to have at least 8 Home Grown Players. Note that this rule ONLY applies to Premier League matches, not fixtures in other competitions.
What is a Home Grown Player?
A Home Grown Player, as defined by the Premier League, is a player who: (a) is 21 or older on January 1 of the year in which that season begins; and (b) spent three years between the ages of 16 and 21 with a team in the English football League system.
Two important common misconceptions to clear up: this rule applies regardless of nationality, so you do NOT have to be English/Welsh to be a Home Grown Player. Wojciech Szczesny is a Home Grown Player, as is Cesc Fabregas, as a result of spending three years between the ages of 16 to 21 with a League team.
Which brings me to the other common misconception – you don’t have to be at the same club that developed you to be a Home Grown Player. Fabregas will count as a Home Grown Player for Chelsea as a result of his development years at Arsenal. Danny Welbeck will count as a Home Grown Player for Arsenal as a result of his development years at Manchester United.
Oh, and one strange thing about the rule – they draw the line between whether you are over 21 or under 21, for purposes of the rule, by whether you are 21 on January 1 of the year in which the relevant season starts. In other words, to be "under 21" for the 2014-2015 season, you had to be born later than January 1, 1993. So Jack Wilshere was an "under-21" last season even though he turned 22 halfway through the season.
How Does This Affect Arsenal’s Current Roster?
For purposes of the Rule, players can basically be divided into three groups: (1) players under 21, who don’t count against the 25-player roster cap at all; (2) over age 21 players who are Home Grown; and (3) over age 21 players who are not Home Grown. As I understand the rule, here’s how the current Arsenal first-team roster breaks down:
The Under 21s
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (20)*
Calum Chambers (19)*
Yaya Sanogo (21)
Serge Gnabry (19)*
Gedion Zelalem (17)*
* Denotes a player who, if he stays with the club or goes on domestic loan through turning 21, will be counted as a Home Grown Player.
Again – these players do not have to be registered as part of the 25-player roster at all, which greatly helps with Arsenal’s roster flexibility. Particularly given that Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chambers, and Sanogo all figure to see some first-team minutes, and possibly Gnabry and Zelalem could work their way in in an injury situation as well.
Now, to the over-21 players.
Home Grown Players
This is a good collection of talent, all relatively young and five out of the eight are British. It doesn’t specifically relate to the Rule, but these are some of my favorite Arsenal first-team players, and I hope the team builds around this core for years to come. It is worth noting that while Arsenal could technically add another Home Grown over 21 player in January (if Coquelin were dropped, which would be fine), it strikes me as extremely unlikely that they would do so, given that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will fall into this category starting next season once he ages out of being an under 21 player. (Although, to be clear, there is no maximum amount of Home Grown players a team can have, other than the 25-man total over-21 roster cap).
** I am not 100% certain about Martinez. As I read the rule, I believe that he qualifies as a Home Grown Player, and could be used to fill out the 25-man roster. However, I confess that I am uncertain of this, or of Coquelin, explained in more detail below. The official Premier League site does not currently have Martinez listed as a Home Grown Player, but also does not appear to have been updated with this information since last year, when Martinez qualified as an Under-21 player. But as I understand the rule, Martinez is now over 21, and I believe has spent 3 years with Arsenal or another English club (loan spells with Oxford United and Sheffield Wednesday).
Non-Home Grown Players
One thing that jumps out is that we currently have 15 players listed as first-team players by the club who are not Home Grown Players. So there’s two slots left there, at the moment. However, there are certain players that don’t seem to really figure into the club’s first-team plans at the moment and whom I could see Wenger dropping quite easily, for even more flexibility.
What Does This Mean For Our Transfers?
There are two obvious effects of this rule when it comes to transfers. The first is that the club must be aware of how any incoming transfers affect this requirement. For example we are sitting at 15 non-Home Grown Players, which means that, at most, we could have only brought in, and can only bring in in January, two non-Home Grown Players on a transfer without having to get rid of a current first-team player (camera cuts to Diaby sweating nervously). There are players who could be jettisoned pretty easily to make space for superior talent, but this is still something to keep in mind.
The corollary of this is that Home Grown Players now become much more valuable for the roster flexibility they provide. English players have long been sold at inflated prices, but that has only increased since the Rule’s inception in 2010, as teams like Arsenal competing in multiple competitions realize that they need a full complement of players, and that means finding 8 Home Grown Players capable of playing at the top level. Since, frankly, world-class English players are difficult to find, teams are willing to pay a premium for them. I have to believe this is a big part of why Arsenal were willing to pay so dearly for Home Grown striker Danny Welbeck, as well as Calum Chambers, knowing that after he turns 21 he will count as Home Grown. (See also Lallana, Adam; Shaw, Luke).
What Does This Mean for Development Philosophy?
I think this requirement could potentially shape Arsenal’s (or any club, really) player development philosophy in a several different ways.
1. There’s a Premium on Academy Development – Players like Wilshere and Gibbs, who are valuable first team members who cost the club nothing, become even more valuable than they were before. If the Arsenal academy can produce English players of that quality with any regularity, it will be hugely beneficial to the team’s ability to comply with the Rule.
2. If You’re Going to Buy Young, Buy Really Young – All of a sudden there is a big difference between buying foreign players before they are 18 and after they are 18. For example, the club bought Wojciech Szczesny at 16, developed him, and now, even though he isn’t English, the club gets to reap the rewards of having him as a Home Grown Player. Conversely, the club bought Yaya Sanogo at 20, and while he will hopefully develop into a good striker at the club, will never be a Home Grown Player. We may see more 16 and 17 year-olds moving to English clubs from the continent than we have in the past (like Hector Bellerin, for example).
3. Work Permit Issues – Even More Important – Arsenal have had a long string of players from outside of Europe who struggled to obtain a UK work permit and thus had to go out on loan, usually to Spain, for several years. Unfortunately, loan spells outside of England do not count towards the three development years a player must get prior to 21 to qualify as Home Grown. So, even if the club bought them at 16 or 17, it’s unlikely that players from Costa Rica (Joel Campbell), Bolivia (Samuel Galindo), and Brazil (Wellington Silva) would ever be able to qualify as Home Grown Players because it is much more difficult for them to obtain work permits. For this reason, the Rule may provide an unintended disincentive for teams like Arsenal to scout young players outside of Europe.
4. Domestic Loans > Foreign Loans – For similar reasons, domestic loans become much more attractive to teams with promising young players, even if a foreign loan would otherwise be a superior option. For example, Arsenal sign a player at 18, keep him in the academy for two years, then want to send him on loan to get some first-team options. The two options are a team in League One and a team in the Eredivisie – while the level of play is objectively better in Eredivisie, Arsenal may very well choose to loan the player domestically to ensure the player obtains Home Grown Player status.
This is admittedly a bit arcane, but I think it is important to understand this rule, and the effect it is having on Arsenal and other teams. The reality is that, if you’re competing in four different competitions, 17 first-team players is simply not nearly enough. You need all 25 first-team spots to be able to step in and contribute at the first-team level. Accordingly, the top teams simply have to understand how to put together a first-team that fits within the confines of this Rule. Along with Liverpool, Arsenal among the top English teams seem to be focusing on building around a Home Grown British core, which I think should fill Arsenal fans with some confidence that the team has put in the time to understand this rule and factor it into how this current iteration of Arsenal is put together.
If you don't already, I highly suggest following him on Twitter, and not just because like Aidan and me, he's a hybrid Arsenal/Mets fan.
EDIT: As it turns out, Francis Coquelin is actually considered a home grown player, which not only alters all that figuring done above but also might explain why the hell he's still at Arsenal. I (Thomas) have made a few changes to the original piece to reflect this mind-boggling discovery. Seriously, Coquelin messes everything up.