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Brit-grit Blues show where England should be looking

27 Feb

I used to hate Birmingham City when they were owned by the seedy David Sullivan. But their Carling Cup Final victory over Arsenal had me cheering.

That’s because Alex McLeish’s glory boys proved at Wembley that British footballers can compete with the best in the business. And also that Premier League clubs do NOT need to spend a fortune on continental imports rather than buy the finest young talent from England’s lower divisions.

Anyway as a lifelong footy fan, I thought the Blues fully deserved their victory, even if I could have scored Obafemi Martins’ winning goal myself. I said could have, not would have! To me it was a special occasion when the British bulldog spirit conquered supposedly one of the best club teams in the world.

The experts predicted an easy win for Arsenal – and instead saw them sunk by a Churchillian effort from the boys from the Midlands

Wembley war was won by the true grit of a Birmingham team whose starting line-up included EIGHT players from the UK and Ireland. And that is rare indeed for a Premier League team, the majority of which are packed with megabucks signings from overseas.

Please don’t label me a racist, because that is the last thing I am. But while I love the way Arsenal play – indeed I think they are the best side in the Premier League – they are not an English team.

They are a World XI that just happen to be based in London. Sometimes Arsene Wenger’s team take the field without a single Brit but on Sunday the Frenchman’s World XI did at least have Jack Wilshere in the line-up. (OK, I accept that if Theo Walcott had not been injured, there may have been two Englishmen in the side).

I believe England’s flop in last year’s World Cup was largely due to the fact so few homegrown players feature in the top club sides. And I am convinced things would improve if Premier League bosses stopped buying abroad and started investing in the Championship – the second tier of the English game – which is packed with talented youngsters.

Birmingham centre-back Roger Johnson, one of Sunday’s bruised and battered Carling Cup heroes, is an example of what I mean.

Not because he was my hero before my beloved Cardiff City sold him for £5million a couple of years ago – and not because of the 6ft 3in defender’s special courage in the face of giant odds at Wembley.

Unable to train all week, he hobbled defiantly through the last half-hour after taking a knock that would have seen many lesser players carried off. The fact is that Johnson turned in consistently brilliant performances for Cardiff week after week – yet until Birmingham came in for him, he might as well have been playing on the moon.

Not that we Bluebirds fans were complaining at the lack of interest, of course. While the big boys were looking abroad to strengthen their defences, Roger was lifting us towards the Premier League.

Now, after less than two seasons strutting his stuff at St Andrews, he is probably rated at £20m and being touted as a future England centre-back. What I want to know is why was Johnson not poached by any of the Premier League giants much earlier when he was turning in consistently brilliant performances week after week for Cardiff?

Ironically, a few months before Roger’s move to Birmingham, Wenger had forked out £5m himself for Cardiff teenager Aaron Ramsey. Yet the names of the players that have since moved in at the Emirates continue to be as unspellable as ever. At least Arsenal’s sorry losers still have something to celebrate after their Carling Cup misery.

European Union law is apparently standing in the way of the desire by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini to impose limits on the number of foreign players in a team.

Perhaps the solution would be a friendly agreement between the Football Association and Premier League clubs to field no more than five or maybe six overseas players in the team at any given time.

But I’m a woman. What do I know about football?