England’s lack of success in major international tournaments can be linked to the relatively low number of English players taking part in the Champions League, a study has suggested.
Analysis by sports statisticians Gracenote of the nationalities of players starting games in the Champions League reveals that England still lags behind other major footballing nations, just as it has ever since the competition was expanded to 32 teams in 1999.
“All 10 World Cups and European Championships this century have been won by the countries in the top five for most players starting Champions League matches that season,” says Simon Gleave, head of sports analysis at Gracenote.
England, though, has generally only just scraped into the top 10 in terms of how many players eligible for the national team have started matches in Europe’s elite club competition.
That is despite the Premier League being one of only three leading European leagues prior to this season to have four teams competing in the group stage.
Last season, there were five Premier League sides involved, but England ranked ninth with 26 players starting Champions League matches.
Gareth Southgate’s national team then made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia, their best performance since 1990.
Yet, of the France team that started their World Cup final win over Croatia, eight play for clubs involved in this season’s Champions League group stage. In total, 17 members of their squad are with Champions League clubs.
French teams regularly underperform in Europe, but 49 French players took part in the Champions League last season, a tally bettered only by Spain (59) and Brazil (55).
This season’s Champions League group stage begins on Tuesday, with champions Manchester City representing England alongside Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
But just 14 Englishmen started for those sides in the Premier League at the weekend.
And in contrast to players from other leading countries, very few Englishmen move abroad, despite the lack of opportunities at top Premier League sides.
Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund, Reiss Nelson at Hoffenheim, Jonathan Panzo at Monaco, and Reo Griffiths at Lyon, are all at European sides involved in the group stage this season. None are older than 18, though, and none are first-team regulars.
Brazil, Spain, France and Germany have been the top four nations in providing players to Champions League starting line-ups over each of the last six seasons.
Even Euro 2004 winners Greece and Euro 2016 winners Portugal were both in the top five in terms of players involved in the Champions League in the seasons leading up to the competition.
Meanwhile, Italy’s recent World Cup woes — group-stage elimination in 2014 before a failure to qualify this year — have come in a decade in which the number of Italian players competing in the Champions League has declined enormously.
But with four Italian clubs — Juventus, Napoli, Roma and Inter — all involved this season, the number of Champions League players eligible for Roberto Mancini’s national team is set to rise.
They could even overtake the number of English players.