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Foreign players in the English Premier Academy League: ‘Feet-drain’ or ‘feet-exchange’?

The aim of this article is to make sense of the effects of foreign player involvement in English football’s elite youth academy system. Based upon a series of interviews conducted with academy directors, managers, and coaches at Premier League clubs, and senior figures in the Premier League’s Youth Development department, the article argues that the involvement of foreign players should not be viewed negatively where indigenous players are increasingly forced to the margins of the professional game, or where the recruiting of foreign players results in the deskilling of donor nations. By drawing on research located within the area of highly skilled migration, the article argues that the involvement of foreign players can be seen to reflect processes of ‘feet-exchange’ where skills and knowledge circulate to improve overall standards of performance for indigenous and foreign players. The article concludes by arguing that the recruitment of foreign players to English football’s elite youth development system does not appear to act to the detriment of host and donor nations. Rather, by recruiting foreign players to Premier League academies, and by integrating them with indigenous players, a culture is created which enhances the development potential of all players.