Are foreign players really damaging the Premier League?

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1. State of the Game

There is a lot of debate about opportunities for English players in the Premier League. BBC Sport’s State of the Game study aims to cut through the talk and uncover what is really happening in the top flight.

We analysed the actual playing time of each player in the Premier League. This involved statisticians crunching the data from a total of 118,508 minutes for the first two months of this season and 750,818 from 2013-14.

Why did we do that? We wanted a definitive guide to which nationalities are getting the most playing time on the pitch. From England to Argentina, Brazil to Germany and Benin to Kenya, the results are fascinating.

2. Click to discover State of the Game results

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Click or tap on the shirts above to see the minutes played by players from each country to 1 October of the 2014-15 Premier League season, how they compare to last year, and more.

3. The main concerns

FA chairman Greg Dyke’s commission into the future of English football has the “ambitious but realistic” target of increasing the number of English players in the Premier League to 45% by 2022.

Is this realistic? Are things getting better this season? Here are some key findings from State of the Game.

Areas of concern:

English players accounted for less than a third of playing time last season - the 32.36% figure compares to 69% 20 years ago. The 45% FA target is still less than domestic players’ total in Spain and Germany. England was last at 45% in 2000.

Top clubs use fewest UK players - Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham use the most non-UK players.

Foreign players are being used as squad players - of the 373 non UK players used in last season’s top flight, 92 (24.66%) played less than 10 games.

Three areas for optimism:

English players have got more time on the pitch so far this season - the 36.08% figure, although boosted by newly promoted Burnley, represents 4,516 additional minutes.

England internationals come from more of the top clubs compared to in 1966 - so far this season the average finishing league position of the England team is fifth, compared to tenth in 1966 and 9th in 1990 – two of the country’s best World Cup years.

Many English players are mainstays for their team - 40% of English players have played every game analysed in the study this season. That 54 player total is more than the number of players in the Premier League from France – the second top nation in the top flight by minutes played.

4. Enriching Imports

Yes, a quarter of overseas players are squad players. But there is also top-class talent such as Diego Costa (Spain), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Angel Di Maria (Argentina) and Alexis Sanchez (Chile). Watch some of the top foreign stars here:

Some £530m was spent on foreign players in the summer’s record £835m transfer window. In the period studied by State of the Game this season the 2013-14 top eight used 44 new signings. Thirty three were foreigners.

How you view the influx of top foreign players depends on your core philosophy in this debate. Do you want a league where English players are given more opportunities to flourish at the top clubs and help the national team? Or do you want to enjoy watching some of the best players in the world?

5. Where would England finish in the league?

State of the Game found that the top clubs in the Premier League play the most foreign players. Why do they do this?

If you follow the logic that English clubs have the most money to spend on the best players then this would suggest that there is not enough top domestic talent to go around.

Given England were knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage for the first time in 56 years this summer this is perhaps not surprising.

Which leads to the question: if the England national team were a Premier League side where would they finish? Would they even make the top four? Here are some views and predictions from experts and their thoughts on related issues:

Graham Taylor (former England manager)

PREDICTION - top 6: “When I was manager there wasn't the thought that one day there would be so many foreigners playing in England. In a game 15 or 16 on the pitch were English - now it is the other way around. When the Premier League was formed it was called the Football Association Premier League and there were a number of club chairmen who were also councillors of the league. There’s no doubt about it, they were much more interested in their club than the national side.”

Peter Reid (ex-Sunderland/Man City manager)

PREDICTION - 6th: “If you look at some of the top strikers in the world, many are South American and there is a hunger there. Desire is a big thing. I watch some of the under-21 Premier league games and I may as well go and paint my garage. It's good football but there's no shutting down, no squeezing.”

Peter Taylor (Gillingham/former Eng U21s manager)

PREDICTION - 3rd: “One of the problems is that there are big squads with a lot of foreign players in them not contributing enough. We should restrict the number of foreign players in England as they do stop our own youngsters from playing. If you're Ross Barkley you will play for Everton because you are that good. But there are also late developers - Jamie Carragher.”

Lutz Pfannenstiel (scout at Hoffenheim)

PREDICTION - 6th to 8th: “When I am scouting, if there is a player who is just good, I will not make an offer for that player. Any player from another country has to be absolutely outstanding. We no longer see the point in taking a player we can maybe find at the same level in Germany. I see some scouts at under-20 or under-17 tournaments and English ones will make an offer if they see other foreign clubs making a fuss about a player, just in case it works out.”

Huw Jennings (Fulham academy director)

PREDICTION - 10th: “If you look at the stats over the last few years, our concern is whether young players get a chance at the highest level. Our young players need a platform for success. The other worrying activity is by agents and third parties, who spoil young players’ opportunities with advice which is unregulated.”

Rick Parry (former Premier League boss)

PREDICTION - top 4: “We could not have envisaged this happening. We were forming the Premier League in the backwash of the Italian World Cup and one of our concerns was about English talents going abroad. One of our priorities was to reverse that, but if anyone had said we would have this many foreign players here we'd have thought they were crazy.”

6. An English case study

Imagine being 16 years old and the Premier League champions managed by Jose Mourinho sign you in a transfer worth £5m. That’s what happened to Michael Woods in 2006 when he moved - in a joint deal with Tom Taiwo - from Leeds to Chelsea.

But within seven years Woods was plying his trade at non-league Harrogate Town and contemplating turning his back on football. Now 24, he is back in the professional game with Hartlepool and at the start of what he hopes is a long journey back to the Premier League. Here, he tells his story:

Captured by Chelsea

“We had a strong side that had grown up together. Danny Rose, Fabian Delph, Tom Taiwo and Jonny Howson. A lot of the bigger Premier League clubs were sniffing to take a few of us, just trying to take advantage of the financial situation Leeds were in. A lot of eyebrows were raised as if to say ‘are you going to go down there and get a chance?’ I thought 10 years down the line I’m going to think ‘what if I didn’t go’.

“Everything went over my head. I didn’t feel added pressure. There were young players coming to Chelsea from all over the world for similar fees. I think mine and Tom’s was more publicised because we were English."

Education at Stamford Bridge

“Mourinho was brilliant but the biggest influence was Brendan Rodgers who was the youth-team coach. I’d just turned 16 when I made my debut in the FA Cup coming on as a sub for Ashley Cole. It was fantastic. I was still naive. I came off and my first thought was ‘I want to play again’. The English boys took me under their wing, being English. If the English boys are doing well the English lads at the club try to push you on.

"I was flying for the first two years. I was enjoying my football and felt confident. Then the injuries struck. It was a tough learning curve. I worked as hard as I could when I was injured. There'd be two reserve fixtures a month with a 23-man squad in the changing room. Obviously only 11 can start and there’d be seven, eight or nine lads scratching their heads, training and not playing any games. I haven't got a bad word to say about Chelsea and the academy, the way they treated my injury. They couldn’t do any more."

Out on loan

"For me the biggest eye-opener was going to Notts County on loan. Paul Ince was manager. The style of football was something I had never been used to. You’re playing against senior pros with 500 games under their belt and getting barged off the ball, getting an elbow at you when you’re going up for headers. It’s a totally different game. I read Harry Redknapp’s book and he said he always felt it was more beneficial to get his lads out on loan as quickly as possible. I think that’s massive."

Moving on

“When I left in 2011 I’d known for a while it would happen. I’d been going in for three years staring at walls. It seemed like my debut was a long, long time ago. My body was broken. It was quite depressing. Your head would be telling you to do one thing and your body just wouldn’t do it. It came as relief.

“Dropping into non-league is something people shouldn’t be afraid of. I came from a working-class family and I think you can forget that. I went to Harrogate and lads were working 9-5 and training at night. Everyone was together. It was one of my happiest times in football. I played 35 league games and loved it. After 15 games people start talking about you and here I am at Hartlepool."

Crowded out

"I think there are too many foreign footballers in the Premier League. I’d like to see a quota of three English players in each team. At 15, 16 or 17 you’re playing with lads who you’re looking at and thinking ‘he’s a cert, he’s going to make it, he’s nailed on, he’s got everything’. Then it comes to the age of 19/20 and Premier League managers can buy an Eden Hazard with 100 French league games under his belt for £30m. He’s going to play and the young lads aren’t – it’s as simple as that. It's not that the English lads aren't good enough, it's getting that first-team experience."

7. Vote: Do foreign players damage the league?

So, you've read the arguments for and against and seen the numbers - but what do you think? Tell us whether you think foreign players really damage the Premier League.