If England beat Croatia tonight, perhaps all will be forgiven, but over the past couple of weeks, all this talk of a "golden generation" in English football has been replaced by the complaint that it’s the fault of the foreigners that English players are rubbish: they’re coming into the top divisions, taking the jobs of English players by doing the work for less, etc. etc. Sound familiar?
I’m not sure this is a plausible argument. As the FT leader on Saturday commented:
That the English team have gone from heroes to “zeros” has nothing to do with being denied opportunities to compete at the top. English soccer was hardly stellar in the 1970s and nobody blamed Johnny Foreigner then. Nor did they when Graham Taylor’s side failed to make the 1994 World Cup.
Imagine if we heard the same clamour from Essex-born bankers in the City of London every time that trading profits slumped: “Those Russian boys in commodities are cramping our style,” or “It’s all the fault of the Yanks in fixed income.”
Two other points are worth making:
1) The more general question about the effect of immigration on native wages and employment is vexed, because so many things change at the same time. Clearly they don’t simply "take our jobs" because as the population expands, so does demand and so do the likely number of jobs. But immigrants could certainly damp down wages. However, there’s persuasive evidence that they do not, looking at natural experiments such as the Mariel boat lift, when 125,000 Cubans suddenly arrived in Miami. Relative to other cities such as Los Angeles and Houston, Miami actually did better, with lower unemployment and faster wage growth than elsewere. (David Card is the guru here. George Borjas presents the opposing view.) The story seems similar in, for instance, Israel, when there was a large influx of Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union.
2) One big difference between football and the real world. Football does have a fixed number of teams in the top division, and so it is plausible to say that foreigners are taking jobs from English footballers. Even if that were proved to have a negative effect on anyone but the footballers themselves, the lessons do not carry over to the British economy.
Update: Rob Minto has more.