The argument goes that too many of those nasty foreign players are coming over here with their 'skills' and their 'work ethic' and clubs are playing them instead of decent, honest homegrown English players, who are left sitting on the bench, barely getting any game time at all. And, therefore, this hurts the national team when it comes to big tournaments, because our players can't seem to get a game at club level.
There may well be something in that. But calling for restrictions or regulations is a nonsense which would ruin football in this country. Of course clubs are going to play their strongest starting XI given the opportunity - what else would you expect them to do?! If the foreign players are better, more naturally gifted, and work harder in training than their English counterparts, isn't it up to those English players to up their game?
If you're not good enough to start for your club, then you're not good enough - don't whinge about it, don't go running to mummy and daddy claiming the other kids are being mean to you… Do something about it! To argue for restrictions is no different, in principle, from the Luddite protectionism displayed by London cab drivers in response to a competitor (in the shape of taxi app Uber) appearing on the market.
But this is all a smokescreen for the real issue which haunts the England team - the fact that none of England's players are playing in foreign leagues. Far from wringing our hands worrying about foreign players 'coming over here', we should be 'going over there'.
Where the #ENG starting XI play their club football. #ENGvITA pic.twitter.com/RX2J6X1zVS
— BBC 606 (@bbc606) June 14, 2014
Why is that? Well, we hear a lot of talk about how the Premier League is the best league in the world - it clearly isn't (although that's definitely a topic for another post!), but what it does have is a very distinctive style of play. Almost all the players who have played for England in my lifetime have stayed in England their entire careers - which makes them rather one-dimensional, no matter how good they are. The 'English way of playing' is all they know - and when players with such little experience of different styles of playing come up against other international teams during the World Cup, they often don't know how to handle them.
When you look at the best international football teams, their squads are melting pots of a range of various footballing cultures from around the world; they will have players who play club football in the Premier League, in La Liga, in the Bundesliga, in Brazil, in Argentina, in the US - and this gives them a much more rounded experience of football in general. Personally, I would prefer to see more English players signing for clubs abroad (even - and this is crucial - if not necessarily for the top clubs in those foreign leagues), gaining more knowledge of different footballing styles, different climates, different stadia, etc. - and then drawing all these diverse experiences together to mould an exciting and multi-faceted England team which knows its opponents and can anticipate them.
But this will never happen, because in England we are cursed with a vastly overinflated opinion of our own football culture, and refuse to see the bigger picture.