Not so long ago "quotas" and "homegrown" were terms more commonly used in reference to agriculture, but they are now the new buzzwords in the Premier League. Forget tactical insights and commentators working out the correct pronunciation of Chelsea's latest imports, now the talk is about the arrival of the 25-man squad.
The idea is to improve the quality and, ultimately, quantity, of top young English players coming through. After the national side's poor performance in the World Cup, that cannot happen quickly enough. Given that most of the under-performing side that Fabio Capello took to South Africa were part of what had become optimistically known as English football's golden generation, the new quota system really has a task to perform.
Explained in its simplest form, the new quota system requires the 20 Premier League sides to name a squad of up to 25 senior - aged 21 or over - players, of which at least eight must be homegrown. A homegrown player? That is one who has been trained for three years by a professional English or Welsh club before turning 21. Clubs will have to declare their 25 by 8pm on September 1 - 23 hours after the transfer window is firmly shut. The same process will happen again in January 2011 after the closure of the mid-season window.
But given the ritual panic that already surrounds the transfer deadline with faxes and emails flying around the globe to register last-minute buys, it is unlikely the new system will be without its birth pangs and controversy. The registration process will actually happen online through a system sophisticated enough to spot if the qualifying criteria is not met. Bizarrely, by deadline day, the new season will be three games old although not according to the Premier League's new definition of the season: "For the purpose of this rule, the season is deemed to run from the date the first transfer window closes until the final match of the campaign".
It is a situation that means some players could have started the new campaign but then not be included in the squad of 25 either through picking up an injury or failing to impress their manager. Already Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, has ruled out Jonathan Woodgate, the former England defender, from his plans after the latest in a series of injuries. While Chelsea boast two players who define Englishness in the national team - John Terry and Frank Lampard - last season they had only five who qualify as homegrown. They won the title using just six Englishmen including the now-departed Joe Cole.
Manchester United seemingly have no problems but Liverpool, ironically managed by Englishman Roy Hodgson, find themselves seeking homegrowns even with the addition of Cole. The definition has produced some weird and wonderful ironies, not least at Arsenal where their squad will almost certainly include homegrowns from across Europe, Spain's World Cup winner Cesc Fabregas, France's Gael Clichy, Switzerland's Johan Djourou, Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner, and Denilson, a Brazilian.
Manchester City might have to temper their apparently unrestricted ability to buy in star names from across the world with meeting the homegrown requirements. Premier League clubs used between 21 and 30 players last season. In comparison, when Arsenal won the League and FA Cup double in the 1970/71 season they used a record-low 16 players in a season that involved 42 league matches and nine FA Cup ties. That team was made up of 10 Englishmen, three Scotsmen, two Northern Irishmen and a Welshman.
Back in the 1970s there were few areas in which the English First Division could claim to be the best in the world, decades before the formation of the Premier League in 1992 with the influx of Sky television money and the subsequent international invasion. Cynics would say that the new rules are merely a cosmetic move and will make no real difference, while others argue that even if the change does work in the long-term it may already be too late to have any real effect before the 2018 World Cup that England desperately aspires to host.
It is a subject that triggers extremes of support and ridicule and, if nothing else, the quota system will reignite the splendid spats between Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. While Ferguson has backed quotas for more than three years predicting that "Arsenal will protest the loudest", Wenger has duly obliged calling the system both "'artificial" and "ridiculous" - "a disastrous decision for football".
Wenger was incredulous at the supportive stance of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA): "I am quite surprised that they accepted the rule as it could put many players out of a job". However, Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, is fully behind the new rules. Redknapp said the system is no guarantee of improving the pool of English talent: "If the young players are good enough, they'll come through. And if you're having to play them just because they're young and English but they're not good enough, then the league won't improve. They've got to be good enough, wherever they're from."
Dave Whelan, the Wigan Athletic chairman, is a former top-flight player who played in the days when the only non-English footballers in the old First Division were Welsh, Scottish or Irish. He, not surprisingly, is fully behind the quota system: "It is something we as a club supported passionately," he said. "Over the next couple of years, we want to see that number [of home grown players] increased to nine then 10 which seems a good number to me - a healthy balance between offering the right opportunities and making it challenging enough so that only the best make it to the top."
Given his background as a player, successful businessman and now club chairman it is interesting that Whelan said: "We have to protect the status of our league as the best in the world and you don't want to make it too easy for English players to make the grade." This season the 20 Premier League clubs will be sharing a trove of £1.2 billion (Dh7bn) proving that there is no correlation between the standing of the national team and the financial health of the English game.
Indeed, on the basis of producing a top-quality product that fills stadiums, generates revenue and outperforms both the Primera Liga and Serie A, the Premier League is unrivalled. But to ignore the complaints about the lack of English players is not an option for Richard Scudamore, the chief executive. "It's not an acceptance that we have to do something about foreign players," he said, "it's the opposite: if you are going to make it as an English player into our first teams you have got to be world class. There were 222 English-qualified players who played first-team football in the Premier League last season and we believe that is enough to find 11 to perform in international competition. What we really want is an England manager who is spoiled for choice."
While there have been fears expressed that clubs will merely sign up young foreign players so that they eventually qualify as homegrown Scudamore said: "It's not in the clubs' interests to stockpile players. It will make buying home-grown talent more attractive. We think it will give clubs an extra incentive to invest in youth. We think that one of the benefits will be that it will help the England team."
The quota system is not a new concept and already exists in the Champions League where squads are limited to 25 players on a List A on much the same basis as the rules that the Premier League has introduced, but there is also a List B for younger players aged under 21 who can be drafted in. A decade ago Italian football became embroiled in one of its many scandals, on this occasion over false passports allegedly being used to prove Italian ancestry to get round the Serie A version of a quota system. In Spain in the fifties, where a foreign player limit of three per team existed, star names from abroad were merely naturalised to help build Real Madrid's great European Cup-winning side. Now Spanish clubs have to register a squad and are allowed only three non European Union players, but players with Spanish ancestry are exempt.
In professional sport it is usually the case that no sooner is a new rule imposed than someone somewhere is consulting lawyers and reading the fine print to see if the regulation can be bent. But the key point is will it make the England side any stronger? Or is it any part of Wenger, Hodgson or Ferguson's brief as club managers to worry about the national team? The wealth of the Premier League does not come from television viewers across the world wanting to see English players but the best players full stop.
Yes, the history of the English game and the tradition and the style of play are attractions but the teams that are described as typically English such as Bolton, Stoke, Blackburn and Hull are, with the honourable exception of Blackburn's title win in 1995, not the powerhouses of the English game. The truth is that many in the English game would argue that some control over the finances of Premier League football clubs is far more urgently required than quotas, as was proved last season by the demise of Portsmouth.