- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

LONDON — There’s a bit of a stink brewing on this side of the pond over the number foreign players competing in the English Premier League, which is certainly the most cosmopolitan league in the world.

London club Arsenal hasn’t started an English-born player since Feb. 1, when it lost 3-2 to crosstown team West Ham United. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.

West Ham coach Alan Pardew, who played eight English players in his team’s 4-1 loss to Bolton last week, has accused Arsenal of being “non-British.” The Gunners’ boss, Frenchman Arsene Wenger, fired back saying he does not check the passports of his players when he signs them.

But it seems the Daily Mail newspaper does. The upscale tabloid now has a box under all its game reports called “England Watch” that lists all the players in the reported match who could play for the English national team at the World Cup. When Arsenal played host to Liverpool last week the paper reported 14 nationalities were represented out of 22 players on the field, along with four “home born” players on the Liverpool team.

Arsenal does have a couple of English starters — Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell — but both are injured. Ironically, Arsenal is the only English club represented in Europe’s prestigious Champions League after Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Everton all crashed out.

The Gunners now take on Italian giant Juventus in the two-game quarterfinals. Pardew warned that if Arsenal did not play a British born player in the two legs it could help rip the “soul out of football.” The West Ham boss is urging teams to buy British players and suggested every club should field at least two or three “home players” on the first team.

But Wenger almost accused Pardew of racism: “I would never like to say to a player, ‘Sorry, you are not playing because you don’t have the right passport.’ ”

Under Wenger, Arsenal is playing an impressive free-flowing passing style with its international starting lineup of players from France, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Belarus, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo and the Ivory Coast. Its star striker, Frenchman Thierry Henry, is arguably the best finisher in the world.

When the EPL began in 1992, there were only 11 foreign players starting. Last season, 45 percent of the players starting in the 20-team league were from outside Britain.

Currently there are six noted Americans — Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, and Jonathan Spector — playing in the EPL. They could be joined by countrymen Bobby Convey, Marcus Hahnemann and Eddie Lewis if Reading and Leeds earn promotions.

Teams in Major League Soccer are allowed to recruit up to four foreign players (older than 25 years old) who do not have green cards and three junior internationals (under 25).

Meantime, Wenger seems to be attempting to diffuse the situation by hinting that Arsenal is interested in signing England captain David Beckham, who is in his third year with Spanish club Real Madrid.

One foreign star making a name for himself in the EPL is former D.C. United captain Ryan Nelsen, who continues to get better with every game. “Nelsen Does His Duty To Sink Misfiring Villa” blared one headline after the New Zealand defender helped Blackburn Rovers sink Aston Villa 2-0.

Hot book — Manchester United ace Wayne Rooney, who plays with the intensity that every game is his last, has been offered an $8.5million advance for a series of five books on his life over the next decade. The 20-year-old forward already has filled a few pages with his brilliant display in United’s 2-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday. Rooney scored both goals and could have had a handful more.

Convey waits — The promotion party is still on hold, but former D.C. United midfielder Convey and his team, Reading, are only two wins away from celebrating their future in the EPL. With 90 points already on the season and eight games still to go, the Championship outfit is almost certain to be playing top-flight soccer for the first time in its history next season.

American goalies — Goalie Kasey Keller, now playing in Germany, is the No.1 choice for the U.S. World Cup team, but it’s certainly a pity Brad Friedel has retired from the international game. Friedel continues to earn Man of the Match awards at Blackburn and looks sharper than Keller.

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