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Costly imports fail to pass quality test

Liverpool's last chance of domestic honours went south on Wednesday night against Reading, the day after Rafa Benitez had declared that the club would be going all out to win the FA Cup.

The manner of Reading's victory was striking. Over two games, and 210 minutes, they looked the more assured, the more skilful and the more intelligent of the two teams. A couple of flourishes from Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard aside, there was hardly a moment when the difference in standings of the two teams was in any way apparent.

What was also striking was the quotidian nature of many of the foreign players Benitez has brought to Anfield. Reading seemed to find the prospect of taking on the likes of Lucas, Emiliano Insua, Daniel Agger, Phillip Degen, David Ngog, Martin Skrtel and the Guinness Light of contemporary footballers, Alberto Aquilani, singularly unthreatening. Their confidence was justified.

Overseas players have provided the Premier League with a massive boost as the wealth of the bigger clubs ensured that some of football's biggest names were lured to Manchester and London. Yet these days Benitez isn't the only manager filling his squad with imports who fall into the journeyman category.

There was a time when the London-born duo of Jobi McAnuff of Reading and Jermaine Beckford of Leeds United, who stood head and shoulders above most of the Liverpool and Manchester United players in the recent FA Cup shocks, would have been playing in the top flight. These days they're shut out by the Ngogs and Aggers of this world as managers practise a kind of parochialism in reverse.

And, given that we have a smaller pool of players, Irish football is even more adversely affected by the untrammelled flow of imports. The days when Brady, Stapleton and O'Leary could break into the Arsenal team as teenagers are gone. It's far easier to spend five million on someone with six caps for Belgium or a couple of Paraguay B appearances than to nurture young talent.

Footballing globalisation, like its economic equivalent, isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Sunday Independent