Parliament: Football `in chaos over foreigners' on foreign player

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL HAS been plunged into "chaos" by ministerial plans to relax the rules on work permits for foreign players, a Labour MP claimed yesterday.

Joe Ashton said clubs were confused over whether they should end or extend contracts for 48 affected players from outside the European Union when they expire on 30 June.

At present, foreign players from outside the European Economic Area are granted work permits only if they are established internationals who have played in at least 75 per cent of their nation's competitive matches over the past two years.

Minimum salary requirements also mean their pay has to match those of leading British players.

Ministers want to relax the rules on work permits to make it easier for clubs to sign international soccer stars and promising youngsters.

It would help clubs to hire players from the Third World on salaries at a fraction of those for European players. Supporters of the change argue that it would enable smaller clubs to afford top players.

But Mr Ashton, the chairman of the all-party Football Group and a vice- president of Sheffield Wednesday, urged ministers to clarify when the proposed new regime would come into force.

He added that the Premier League had asked him to raise the issue.

"The situation does need explaining and if somebody can make a written statement before the end of this week, because announcing these proposals two days ago has literally plunged the game into chaos," said Mr Ashton.

As well as the clubs' confusion, the MP warned that the Professional Footballers' Association feared the game would be flooded with cheap players from Eastern Europe. "They are also worried about the effect on the English national team.

"If all of our teams in England are carrying nine or ten foreign footballers, there is not much scope for the future Beckhams to come through the ranks," he said.