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28 February 2024

Foreign influx falls foul as homegrown heroes get chance to shine in Europe

By Gary Meenaghan

Sports quiz hotshot: When was the last time a British team fielded an Englishman, Scotsman, Welshman, Northern Irishman and a Republic of Ireland player in the same side for a European clash?

Leeds came close in 2001, but lacked a Welshman, while Liverpool almost managed it in 1984, but failed to field a representative of Northern Ireland.

The answer, if you need a clue, does not require historical archives or access to the internet's encyclopedic football databases. All you need is a copy of the sports pages from any of this week's newspapers.

Manchester United, with Ryan Giggs (Wales), Darren Fletcher (Scotland), John O'Shea (Republic), Johnny Evans (Northern Ireland) and Rio Ferdinand (England), showed against Inter Milan midweek that expensive foreign signings are not synonymous with success in Europe.

United outclassed Jose Mourinho's men for the majority of their Tuesday night trip to the San Siro. Yet the biggest disappointment on the night was Dimitar Berbatov, a Bulgarian, and, despite being awarded 20 free-kicks, Cristiano Ronaldo, who hit the majority of them, failed to really test Julio Cesar.

Giggs came the closest to scoring, Michael Carrick – United's other English starter on the night – was lauded by the Italian press the next day and substitute Wayne Rooney (if you don't know he's English, why are you even reading this?) was a constant threat when he came on to replace South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung.

Sir Alex Ferguson has always looked to build his squads around homegrown players. Indeed, before Tuesday night, the last side to field a player from each of the five Commonwealth countries in a European competition was Ferguson's United team of 1991.

An independent report yesterday ruled that Fifa's proposal to limit the number of foreign players does not break European Union laws.

Ferguson will likely be unmoved by such news, but for the likes of Arsenal, who failed to field one homegrown player against Roma on Tuesday, and Liverpool, who managed just one in the form of English defender Jamie Carragher the following evening against Real Madrid, some wholesale changes to their approach – not to mention their squads – can be expected in the coming seasons.

They say home is where the heart is. But if you are a Manchester United fan, home is where the start is. The end product is success.