On the eve of the 12th anniversary of Aston Villa fielding the last all-English Premier League side, Gerard Houllier has said that no Premier League team would ever be made up of one nationality again.
John Gregory fielded 14 Englishmen in the 4-1 defeat to Coventry on February 27, 1999. In the 4,562 top-flight fixtures since then it has only once looked like happening again. Steve McClaren appeared to have fielded a fully home-grown starting XI for his penultimate game in charge of Middlesbrough in 2006, until one of his players, James Morrison, was subsequently capped by Scotland.
This season, Newcastle, Sunderland and West Ham have all fielded eight English players at the same time, but according to Houllier, the current Villa manager, there is no chance of a "full English" ever happening again. "I don't think we will see another all-English Premier League team again," said Houllier. "I think Villa were late to catch on to the Europeanisation of football and now the globalisation of football.
"In the last six or seven Champions League campaigns, of the last 32 teams the nationality most represented was Brazilian and then French. I think football now has opened up -- not only to Europe, but to the world. That's why you have young kids from Brazil coming and being bought up.
"But you want to develop your own young players in your youth team, too. Arsenal, Manchester United and all the big teams started doing this a long time ago."
Houllier might not be as committed to buying British as his predecessor, Martin O'Neill, but the Frenchman is considering the best way to ensure that his top English players commit their futures to the club. Ashley Young is unlikely to stay beyond the summer, but Stewart Downing could be given a new contract despite having more than two years left to run on his current deal.
Houllier hinted that the club would look at Downing's contract in the summer. "At the end of the season we will see," the Frenchman said.
"Stewart has improved a lot. He never misses training, he works hard with application, commitment and dedication.
"He is really focused. He's a major part of our set-up here and I think that he can play in several different positions." (© Daily Telegraph, London)