x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Players have a passport to crack the big time in English football

Kenya's Victor Wanyama takes the number of nationalities to have played in the English Premier League to 100.

Victor Wanyama played for Southampton in a friendly against Real Sociedad last week.
Victor Wanyama played for Southampton in a friendly against Real Sociedad last week.

It has been a colourful start to the European football season.

On Friday night, the European and German champions, Bayern Munich, kicked off the Bundesliga season with 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. A day later, the Uefa Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund thrashed Augsburg 4-0, helped by three goals from the new signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon.

On Sunday, Monaco announced their return to France's top tier with a 2-0 victory over Bordeaux. The new, €64 million (Dh312m) signing Radamel Falcao scored the second goal.

But somehow it just didn't feel enough.

Perhaps it is because Real Madrid and Barcelona do not kick off until this weekend.

Most likely, it is because, to most football fans around the world, the English Premier League, which also kicks off on Saturday, remains by some distance Europe's most popular league. If there were any question as to why that is, it was answered, at least in part, by the news that Victor Wanyama, Southampton's new signing from Celtic, will become the first Kenyan to play Premier League football when he makes his debut, likely at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Whenever he plays his first match, Kenya will become the 100th foreign nation to have been represented in the English Premier League.

No wonder the whole world watches.

It is a remarkable statistic, one that would have been unthinkable only two decades ago, when the English top division was almost exclusively made up of British players.

Today, with 207 of 566 players, England retains the highest percentage of players (36.6) for a single nationality in the Premier League, but it is a ratio that has dwindled since the start of the Premier League era. As has the number of Welsh, Irish and Scottish players.

December 30, 2009, saw the first Premier League match to kick off without a single English player in either line-up when Arsenal visited Portsmouth. There were, however, seven Frenchmen among the 15 other nationalities.

Increasingly, no one thinks twice about this proliferation of foreign players, except perhaps the England manager Roy Hodgson.

For the fans, the international flavour is what makes the Premier League so unique, and watchable.

With 32 players each, Spain and France surpass Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and few can argue against their worth to the English game.

At the other end of the scale, Croatia's surprisingly paltry total of two - Everton's Nikica Jelavic and Southampton's Dejan Lovren - is matched by Benin, which can boast Stephane Sessegnon at Sunderland and Rudy Gestede at Cardiff City.

One of the notable trends in the Premier League is the increase in players from South America.

Brazilian players can be found at six of the teams that finished in the top seven last season Everton are the exception. Of the 14, Oscar at Chelsea and Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool, in particular, had outstanding seasons.

Argentina lays claim to eight players, and Uruguay only five, although you would be forgiven for thinking it was a lot more, considering the amount of publicity they (or at least one of them) command in the press.

The Arab world is poorly represented, with Morocco providing Adel Taarabt (Fulham), Oussama Assaidi (Liverpool), Marouane Chamakh (Crystal Palace) and Karim El Ahmadi (Aston Villa). Egypt have one representative in Hull City's Ahmed Elmohamady.

Fellow African powerhouses Ivory Coast (with nine), Nigeria (six) and Senegal (five) continue to be a breeding ground for the league.

Last May, the beaming image of the Omani goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi flashed around the world after he, albeit as an unused substitute, tasted glory with Wigan following their 1-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup final.

Sadly, his club's relegation means that Oman is no longer part of the Premier League demographic.

In fact, the Gulf has no representation at all, although Arsenal last week invited Omar Abdulrahman to train with them, igniting brief hopes of a breakthrough. However, Al Ain and the Emirati were unimpressed by the offer.

Still, Abdulrahman remains the best hope of the UAE becoming the 101st member of English football's league of nations.


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