Premier League managerial demographic catching up with increasingly foreign game

By on October 7, 2015

In 2003, the Premier League maintained a fundamentally English soul. Mohamed Al-Fayed was the only foreign owner in the league, yet had been settled in England for over thirty years and his son, Dodi Al-Fayed, even had an infamous relationship with Princess Diana.

However, 2003 was also the year that Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea. The FA could have had every excuse to step in and deny Abramovich, a Russian oligarch and confidant of Vladimir Putin, the right to buy the club amidst fears that an influx of money could destabilize the league; yet English football’s governing body stepped to the side and lo and behold, an arms race between foreign investors commenced. This flow of cash has defined the last decade of the Premier League as footballers’ wages and transfer fees soared higher, buoyed further by escalating television and sponsorship deals.

It was only the following year that the first all-foreign starting eleven in the Premier League was fielded by Arsene Wenger, and in 2007, Manchester City was purchased by Thaksin Shinawatra, who passed the reigns to Sheikh Mansour the following year. Eight years later, it’s no surprise that City and Chelsea have shared three of the past four Premier League titles. Currently, eleven Premier League clubs are owned by a majority foreign investors, including six of last season’s top seven clubs.

The player pool in the Premier League was the first to adapt to the shifting landscape in English football, sparked by the influx of wealth in the beautiful game. Research by the BBC has confirmed that only 36% of the players competing in the Premier League last season were English, a world away from the days of 2004 and Arsenal’s first all foreign team sheet. (Foreign here, and throughout this article referring to those born outside of the UK). Moreover, the top five clubs last season used the most foreign players, whilst City and champions Chelsea used just three English players over the course of the campaign.

This modernization of football makes sense, considering that the Premier League’s global appeal is growing and England’s language barrier gets in the way of far fewer people than in, say, Germany. And although some foreign owners treat football clubs as toys, it’s still hard to turn a profit from a football club; given the Premier League is home to biggest television and sponsorship deals in football, it is undoubtedly the most appealing league for investors.

Yet for some reason, the pool of Premier League managers has been considerably slower to move with the changing times. This past weekend, Liverpool let go of Brendan Rodgers and as Jurgen Klopp appears to be nailed in as the Northern Irishman’s successor, there are fewer English managers than foreigners in the Premier League for the first time in its history.

Back in 1992, the year that England’s top division rebranded itself for an influx of money in the game, the number of foreign managers in the league was a resounding zero. Slowly but surely, that number inched higher and higher, only to level out at around four or five. Perhaps more so than players or owners, managers define the tactical outlook of England’s teams, and the country has been very reluctant to hand over the keys to its traditionally direct and fast-paced style of play.

Only in 2009 did the number of foreign managers in the league rise above five, signaling the beginning of another inundation of foreign managers. English managers can’t keep up with the newest wave of foreign gaffers because they are increasingly outnumbered. Perhaps the growing prevalence of foreigners could break the mold formed by the country’s rather insular approach to the game it invented?

Perhaps, but the heart of football in England still belongs to the fan. No matter the manager, a Mancunian will always take pleasure in witnessing a Liverpudlian suffer from yet another season outside of Champions League and football will collectively pity Arsenal fans. And English football fans can always take pleasure in criticizing the very much English failures of their national team.

Homepage photo credit: By Bernard Chan (Flickr: 20120721-9), via Wikipedia Commons

About Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, founder of Football Every Day, lives and breaths football from the West Coast of the United States in California. Aside from founding Football Every Day in January of 2013, Alex has also launched his own journalism career and hopes to help others do the same with FBED. He covers the San Jose Earthquakes as a beat reporter for and his work has also been featured in the BBC's Match of the Day Magazine.