Why Di Canio can’t play Gabilondo
Alex Cooke looks at the rules on home-grown players and how they are stopping Di Canio picking, playing and signing the footballers he wants.
For once the ‘too many foreigners’ brigade are right. Not because their blinkered, dust-brained views on who can and can’t ‘do it’ on a windy night in Barnet are remotely correct, but because the rules say so.
For while Di Canio and his scouts have ranged far and wide in pursuit of talents from Spain, Italy, Namibia, Ghana and Algeria they seem to have forgotten about Football League rules 32.8, 32.8.1, 32.8.2 and 32.9 which effectively restrict the amount of foreign grown players a club can have and can play at once. And, more importantly, Swindon Town are at that limit right now.
The problem isn’t the amount of overseas signings, it is the lack of our own local signings because these rules, as listed on the Football League’s own website, demand a minimum number of ‘home-grown’ players. The ruling isn’t about age, nationality, passport or work permits, it is purely about where a player was developed and where they learnt their trade. The key element is that the home-grown player spent three ‘seasons’ or 36 months in English, or Welsh, football before their 21st birthday. They don’t need to have played, they don’t need to be local, they just need to have been registered and training.
For example, imagine an Italian-born striker who spent four years at Blackburn Rovers but never played a game before heading to the lower leagues of Scotland. So now aged 23 he might be eligible to play for the Azzuri, but he would also be eligible for Swindon. And he does, as this is Raffa Di Vita – Rome-born but a ‘home-grown’ footballer.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Simon Ferry and Paul Caddis who don’t count as home grown, as their footballing education was spent in Scotland at Celtic. For the full list of who counts, and who doesn’t, Ron has created this homegrown-player spreadsheet.
If those rules are rigid, the limits are even tighter, and in June this year they got even tighter: Now if your squad consists of 15 players or more who are over 21, then 10 of those players must be classed as ‘home grown’. The maximum number of registered players over the age of 21 is a squad of 25. And when it comes to picking your squad for a Saturday then four out of your 16 also have had to qualify under the rule.
The problem for Swindon is that we are already at the minimum squad limit with just 10 home-grown players (we own five more but they are on loan), and 18 players who very much aren’t from ‘round here’. So if Paolo decides to ship out, or fall out with, say Phil Smith, Ritchie or Devera, we would have to immediately bring in another home-grown player or risk a sanction from the League.
With squad wage caps in action in League Two and Swindon likely to be towards the top end of maxing their allowance out, it’s clear Di Canio doesn’t have much room to manoeuver. So expect the offloading of one of his own summer signings, potentially Atiku, Esajas or even Risser, before any further exotic foreign signings in January.
Picking a team for a Saturday is similarly fraught with problems. Four home-grown players are guaranteed a starting slot, meaning six of Di Canio’s 18 foreign and youth contingent have to be always automatically excluded from selection to the 16 man squad.
Since Town have 18 players who don’t fit in the home-grown category and with Kennedy, Ritchie and De Vita as the only domestically-produced fixtures in the team, Paolo Di Canio is often left with a bench that has to be a compromise of competing demands. Worst still, he also has a squad which parts of know that they aren’t, and can’t, play every week, which is certainly a situation to test his man-management skills in the longer term.
Add in a few injuries to key home-grown players such as Ritchie or Flint and the team sheet quickly becomes more list of his finest footballers and more of a puzzle. And so it is little wonder that Di Canio chops and changes as he balances his best footballing side against his best legal acceptable side.
It is also a rule that has clearly helped some players’ Swindon careers and hindered others: De Vita is the most obvious beneficiary, starting every league game so far. And, it is also easy to imagine that Jon Smith has at times been on the bench ahead of Risser and Esajas just to keep the numbers up. Of those who have suffered, Lander Gabilondo seems the most likely, having dropped out of the team completely despite some excellent performance.
So how can a balance struck in the squad and on the teamsheet? Should the trade-off be Gabilondo’s ability or Cibocchi’s flexibility? Is it better to keep Lanzano between the posts or use the extra space to have both Magera and Esajas on the bench? Using Ron’s spreadsheet how would you put out the best possible Town 16, and remember to think ‘too many foreigners’?