Chairman Richards comes clean: the Premier League is damaging England· Too many 'foreign players' cost McClaren his job · League is failing to develop homegrown talent David Conn The Guardian, Wednesday June 11 2008 Article history Sir David Richards with Arab sports officials. Photograph: Marwan Naamani/AFP The Premier League chairman, Sir David Richards, has put himself on a collision course with his own member clubs by saying that they have damaged the England national team by signing too many "foreign players" and not giving first-team chances to the graduates from their own academies. Richards also argued that the Premier League should be reduced in size from its current 20 clubs to 18 to ease fixture congestion. Such a reduction would be welcomed within the Football Association as a potential boost to the England team but would be furiously resented by smaller clubs, who would fear losing the huge money which comes with Premier League membership. Richards' comments contradict the line insisted upon by the clubs and by the league's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, that the preponderance of overseas players was not responsible for England's failure to qualify for this summer's European Championship. In response to Richards' words, the Premier League said: "These comments do not represent the collective view of the Premier League." Richards did not deny he had made the comments but claimed that what he had said was not quite what he had meant. He had been answering audience questions after giving a speech to the Third Dubai International Sports Conference, held in the United Arab Emirates principality at the end of May. Premier League chairman Sir David Richards has risked clashing with his own members by admitting that too many 'foreign players' are damaging the England team Asked about "the number of foreign players" and their effect on the national team, Richards was unequivocal: "Does the Premier League hurt the national side? I think the answer to that has got to be yes. "We've been a bit lazy in the Premier League over the years. We created a system of academies and every club spends about £3m a year developing young players. But it hasn't worked, because the availability for us to go out and buy the best stars is an easy thing. "Anybody who comes into the league needs to stay in it, so needs to buy the best stars. We pick kids up at eight years old, we send them to the academy, then at 16 we make them a student, then at 18 we say they haven't made it." Richards added that the Premier League clubs' reluctance to give England-qualified players first-team chances had led to the failure to reach the European Championship in Austria and Switzerland and to Steve McClaren being sacked as England manager after 15 months in the job. "Steve will tell you that he has to have the best players available and the Premier League has hurt him. In fact I would probably go as far as to say the Premier League has probably cost him his job. Because what we've done, we've actually bought all these foreign players in." Richards' remarks pick at an issue which the Premier League, led by Scudamore, has persistently sought to play down. Scudamore has insisted that the paucity of England-qualified players, down last season to only 34% of Premier League club's starting line-ups, had nothing to do with England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008. The chief executive argues that there are enough England-qualified players at the top clubs to form the basis of a successful national side and opposes any measures to introduce a specified number of homegrown players into clubs' squads, as promoted by the European governing body, Uefa. Instead, Scudamore has insisted that the focus should be on improving coaching in the academies. Asked about the optimum size for a division to complement a national team, Richards told the Dubai conference that when the Premier League was formed in 1992 the intention was to reduce it to 18 clubs to ease fixture congestion. "But," he said, "the 20 shareholders said, 'No, we ain't voting to go down to 18.' So fixture congestion is a real problem."