25 men in a window

Jean Marc Bosman changed football

In 1994, a judgement in the European Court of Human Rights was the trigger for a period of chaos in the football world as some of the control which clubs previously had over their players was declared to be illegal. The Bosman case ended the normal practice involved in transfers by which a club could retain an element of control over a player whose contract had come to an end. This was now deemed to be against the Treaty of Rome which had established the (now) European Union, because it was an illegal restraint on freedom of trade. As a result, players who reached the end of their contract could leave whether the club wanted them to or not, and the club could no longer sell a player out of contract, as had been the previous practice.

The Bosman ruling also ended even a modest restriction on the number of overseas players allowed in UEFA matches. The changes gave much more freedom of movement, throwing planning, commitment and expectation into confusion. On Boxing Day 1999, Vialli’s Chelsea had fielded the first English side which contained no English players, a phenomenon taken by Wenger at Arsenal to much greater lengths. By 2009 he not only fielded a team with, as so often, no Englishman in the starting eleven – now he faced a Portsmouth side which was also devoid of English talent.
The two-window transfer period had been agreed in 2002/03, following a proposal for European-wide standardisation, much to the opposition of the English clubs which, led by Terry Venables, had actually advocated it ten years earlier. It was also thought to protect managers from being pestered by agents all year round.

In that same season, Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ had dominated, but with ten English players making 124 appearances in the squad. Twenty-three others from thirteen different African, European, and American countries made 531 appearances. LFC also had ten Englishmen in their 31-man squad, but with 291 appearances they matched their overseas colleagues’ contribution. The English leagues, especially the EPL, feared being swamped with foreign players, leading to a further deterioration of the standing of the national team, and in that sense at least, the strategy seems to be slowly working by replacing some former draws with wins.

England national team results
1981-1990: played 118, won 59, lost 23;
1991-2000: played 108, won 51, lost 19;
2001-2010: played 118, won 71, lost 21
2011-2020: played 116, won 69, lost 19


The Premier League’s present system, introduced for the 2010/11 season, was a cobbled-together solution to these problems which fate had thrown at them. UEFA itself had set a precedent with a relatively complicated 25-man squad rule for the Champions and Europa Leagues group stages in 2008/09. The English 25-man squad rule (see Appendix) and the transfer windows system, both artificial, externally imposed constraints, still carried inconveniences for a club’s progress. If too few players (especially homegrown) are available to be named in the squad, the club must choose whether to limit their choice to a figure below 25, and therefore, perhaps, have to select players who are under 21. If the club has more than 25 qualified on the books (Manchester City, for example, having ‘nearer forty’ for 2010/11 so had no difficulty finding all 25 names), some must be excluded from Premier League activity with a consequent waste of talent and wages. Such an exclusion can be regarded as an expression of distrust in the future of the players concerned. Arsenal happily (?) excluded Ozil and Sokratis from the 2020/21 squad, denying them a chance to play in European competitions for at least four months. The outward loan to Porto in 2020 of the returning Grujic solved that particular problem for LFC, though he had never appeared in our 25-man squads.

Four possible categories were now permitted to contribute to the season’s Premier League games: the main 25-man squad can have no more than 17 overseas players, the balance made up of ‘homegrown’, plus any other registered player born on or after 1 January, twenty-one years earlier, and any other player who had already been registered with an English or Welsh club for three or more years continuously. Thus, for 2015/16, Emre Can did not have to be named as an overseas player among the 25, having been born 12 January 1994; but a year later, he did have to be named. Similarly, Coutinho, born 12 June 1992, did not have to be named until his second full year at the club in 2014/15.

Coutinho later contributed to the overseas quota (here with Ian Ayre).

Note that it was not compulsory that any one of the four categories had to be represented, but eight places in the overall squad were reserved solely for homegrown players. Arsenal continued to select more starting lineups without a homegrown player than all other Premier League clubs put together. Their loss was LFC’s gain when Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to get game time.

All this would be difficult enough to manage, but made harder by circumstances over which the club has no control: for example, the desire of players such as Coutinho or Wijnaldum to be transferred mid-career against the real wishes of the parent club; the transfer out of players so late in the window that no replacements can be found; correspondingly, retaining a player who had intended to transfer but did not do so, like Jose Enrique in the summer of 2015; and the ever-present threat of serious injury. These imponderables turn decision-making from a balancing act into a juggling act.

Only five PL clubs are ending the 2021/22 season with all 25 players listed – Chelsea, Everton, Leicester, Newcastle and Watford. Arsenal, Leeds and Norwich have only 17, while Manchester City and Wolves have 19. Wolves have only four homegrown players, Arsenal five and both Man City and Norwich six. The most eye-catching figure is probably Burnley, with eighteen homegrown players in their squad of 23.

At first glance, there appears to be little correlation between success on the pitch and the numbers contained within a club’s current 25-man squad. Is it a coincidence, however, that seven clubs have more homegrown players than overseas – Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle and Southampton – whose league positions suggest that the policy of developing homegrown youngsters still has some way to go?

Liverpool’s experience with the new system 2010-2022.

When Roy Hodgson arrived on 1 July 2010 the only new player signed since Glen Johnson (26 June 2009) and Sotiris Kyriakos (21 August 2009) was Maxi Rodriguez on 13 January 2010. It would appear that the club had given too little forethought (and certainly no action) towards the impending change because only seventeen eligible players, of the twenty-five allowed, were on the books. Worse still, Alberto Aquilani and (even against the manager’s wishes) Emiliano Insua were then sent out on loan (to Juventus on 24 August and Galatasaray on the last day of the window, 31 August 2010).

The new managerial regime at least brought a sense of urgency to recruitment, though his choice of Cole, Brad Jones, Jovanovic, Konchesky, Meireles, and Poulsen were (at best) relatively underwhelming. Some were signed mainly because otherwise, LFC would have only four homegrown players (the norm in any one season since Shankly). Even with the new recruits, we faced the new season with only 21 names for the squad submitted to the Premier League. There is, of course, an argument for leaving a gap in case good players become available in the January window but even then ‘only’ Carroll and Suarez were brought in by Dalglish in January 2011. A further eight under 21’s, who had been born on or after 1 January 1989, made 64 Premier League appearances in the 38 League games that season. (Eccleston 1, Flanagan 7, Kelly 11, N’Gog 25, Pacheco 1, Robinson 2, Shelvey 15, and Wilson 2.)

Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll arrive at Liverpool.

During the summer of 2011, David Bolt likened the situation to ‘someone who’s upgraded their kitchen appliances, but hasn’t found a way to dispose of the old unwanted ones, so some of Liverpool’s squad may end up being like a fridge or an old sink, stuck in the back garden, waiting for someone to take them away, which will be a drain on resources the club can barely afford.’ Babel and Torres had already gone in January, replaced by Carroll and Suarez. Cole and Darby were now sent out on loan (the latter having made only one appearance during 2010/11), and the other five were sold. In came Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy, Alex Doni and Jose Enrique, which still left Liverpool six short of their permitted 25, but at least we had eight homegrown among them and a strong u-21 contingent (including Coady, Gulacsi, Henderson, Sterling and Wisdom) to call on.

The January 2012 window brought in Teixeira and Ward, but they had to wait for their debuts, and neither was included in the 2012/13 squad which is unique in the number of homegrown players in LFC’s 25-man squad. Now the balance of home (12) and overseas players (8) had reversed, the only time that we have had more homegrown in the squad than overseas. Joe Allen, brought in by Brendan Rodgers from Swansea, was the only newcomer in the 20, Welsh players (but not Irish or Scottish) counting as homegrown. The January addition of Sturridge raised our homegrown contingent to thirteen.

How do we account for this unusual balance? Simply that, at the end of the 2011/12 season, Adam, Aurelio, Kuyt, and Maxi had departed, and had not been replaced in the overseas list.

Coutinho and Sturridge were bought in the January 2013 window, and the normal balance was restored by the summer because LFC lost six of the thirteen homegrown (Carragher, Carroll, Cole, Downing, Gulacsi and Spearing) and only one (Doni) from overseas.
Under Rodgers, the club relied on a significant input of players who were not in the 25-man squad. As in 2010/11, a change of manager also featured in 2015/16, when thirteen outside the named squad (more than before or since) were used. In the intervening years, six to eight such players each season were given PL appearances. Since that high watermark of 2015/16, reliance on u-21s has fallen significantly, with three of the last five seasons using only one. (Curtis Jones hasn’t even appeared in the 25-man squad yet!)

In 2018/19, with the addition of Randall, only six homegrown players were in the squad, down from ten the year before. (Flanagan was out on loan after his court appearance. Ings was on loan; Lloyd Jones had joined Luton in the January window; Oxlade-Chamberlain was out injured; and Ward had gone to Leicester as backup for Schmeichel.) Only five of the six actually played in the league, with Randall out on loan. Yet, we could have had nine homegrown, because there were 16 overseas in the squad. We added two more in the following season, but, once again, only five of the eight played in the league.
The use of the January window has been controversial, with few transfers and relatively little optimism among fans for an improvement to the squad half way through a season. Indeed, without a pre-season facility, there is a perceived danger that a newcomer in January might be disruptive to the understanding between existing players. The best way to judge LFC’s effectiveness recruiting in January is to see who arrived, and their subsequent careers at LFC.

2011 Andy Carroll Luis Suarez
Danny Ward, João Carlos Teixeira
2013 Daniel Sturridge Philippe Coutinho
2016 Steven Caulker (loan)   
2018   Virgil Van Dijk
2020    Takumi Minamino
2021  Ben Davies Ozan Kabak
2022    Luis Diaz

The overwhelming impression from this table is how few homegrown players have come to the fore and how few from overseas have not done so. From the first list, only Carroll and Sturridge have appeared in subsequent squad lists (2 and 6 respectively), but from overseas only Teixeira (1) has not shone, before their departure. Furthermore, the quality of those brought in during the January window leaves little doubt of how useful it has been to Liverpool.
If the manager wants to be able to call on over-21 players for Premier League matches, they must be named in advance in the 25-man squad. However, with a large number of good, under-21’s available in most Premier League clubs to call upon if needed, how relevant is the 25-man squad? (Under-21s also have to be registered with the Premier League. Numbers currently vary from 28 in Brentford to 64 in Arsenal and Manchester City. LFC has 53.) How many are named really to make up the twenty-five rather than being integral to the first team plans? How many have been in the named squad but never played a league match in the same season?
We have registered a full squad of 25 players only once (for the 2017/18 season) and someone had to lose out in January to make room for Virgil van Dijk. (Markovic was sent out on loan.) Yet we ‘wasted’ five of those places, as Bogdan, Flanagan, Lloyd Jones, Markovic and Ward did not play in any PL match, though Flanagan and Ward each played in a League Cup game.
We have also occupied our full quota of overseas players (17) only once – that is, during the current season when neither Origi nor Karius made their expected moves. (Watford is currently the only other PL club to have a full quota of overseas players in their squad.) The arrival of Diaz would have made 18, so Karius was dropped. 

Origi will sadly be missing from the 'next' 25 man squad

So not all players in the 25-man squad are used in the season concerned. Indeed, 2014/15 is the only season in which everyone named has actually played in the league. However, almost all play, or have been on the bench, in other seasons or competitions. The only exception has been Isaac Christie-Davies, who joined us in 2018, made the 2019/20 25-man squad, made one League Cup appearance, went out on loan in January 2020, and was subsequently sold.

Appendix – the current Premier League 25-man rule

Each Premier League club submits a 25-man squad list after each transfer window closes. Each player is assigned a squad number, which they wear during Premier League matches. Changes to the squad list may be made during the period of a transfer window, but not between windows except for, e.g., a goalkeeper crisis.
A player on loan to another club will not be named by the home club in its 25-man squad.
The list can contain no more than 17 players who do not fulfil "Home Grown Player" criteria. The remainder of the squad, up to a total of 25 players, must be homegrown. "Homegrown" means a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).
Under-21 players are eligible over and above the limit of 25 players per squad. For the 2022/23 campaign, Under-21 players will have been born on or after 1 January 2001.

Copyright - Colin Rogers for


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