Twenty-five years ago this week, Brian Deane scored the first ever goal in the Premier League for Sheffield United. Not that he thought much of it at the time.
Deane scored twice on the day to earn the Blades a 2-1 win over eventual champions Manchester United, and back in 1992 that meant far more to the three-cap England striker than being the first player to notch in the re-branded First Division.
“It wasn’t the best goal I’ve ever scored, but obviously it was a significant one because it was against Manchester United who went on to win the league,” he says.
“It was only when I finished playing that it (being the first Premier League goal) started to get mentioned over and over again.
“While I was playing there was no real talk about it, but for some reason it became a thing and obviously now, 25 years later, it’s very significant.”
Back in 1992, however, players had no idea that the re-brand would make such an enormous impact on English football. Famously, only 13 foreign stars appeared on that first weekend of the Premier League.
“There weren’t any real massive changes,” Deane says. “The only change was the amount of exposure we were getting on TV so we knew we were a little bit more under the spotlight.
“Football was getting a little bit more attention, but we were just enjoying the ride really.”
Things really started to change in the second half of the 1990s, however, when first the Bosman ruling was introduced and then England hosted the European Championship, suddenly making the Premier League an attractive destination.
Deane had left Sheffield United for Leeds United by this point and says the sudden influx from overseas forced British players to up their game.
However, there was no ill-feeling or sense of foreboding in the dressing room about the amount of foreign players coming in, he says.
“You bring in someone of the quality of Tony (Yeboah) or people like Alen Bokšić, Juninho that I played with (at Middlesbrough), these kind of players, top players, that was the difference.
“All of a sudden teams could afford to bring in these top players so you had to step up. It became a case of hanging on, surviving, and making sure you were part of this whole juggernaut that was going forward.
“But in those days when foreign players came in we didn’t really give it a second thought. If you think about where we’re at now, it’s about the league, it’s not about players developing, but it just kind of crept us on us I suppose.”
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Though Deane says “there were some pretty insignificant players that came in and then disappeared without a trace”, he believes blame lies within for the Premier League losing its core of homegrown players and managers.
“First it was foreign players and then clubs started to bring in foreign coaches with different ideas. To be honest, at that time I think the culture was a little bit lazy, and it made it easy for foreign managers to come in and look as though they’d reinvented the wheel.
“We have to blame ourselves for that because with everything we had at that time it was probably a good time to introduce new ideas from within, but they just went along with whatever we’d been doing before.
“I remember some of the five-a-side possession games we played which were totally inappropriate for what we were trying to achieve. The areas were too big, you couldn’t get the intensity…instead of dealing with tight technical situations.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we’ve probably suffered as a result of that. Perhaps the people that should have taken us forward at that time didn’t, and as a result now we have coaches coming in like the reserve team manager from Borussia Dortmund at Norwich. What’s all that about?”
Brian Deane was speaking on behalf of Play With A Legend, an events company and agency for former footballers, which gives fans the chance to play alongside over 100 former footballers. Visit Play With A Legend for more information.
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