Football: Arsenal and United to fight Uefa quotas

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED, Arsenal and the most powerful clubs in Europe are set to oppose new measures announced by Uefa yesterday that will force teams in the Champions' League and Uefa Cup to include quotas of home- grown players in their squads at the expense of foreign stars.

Under the new rules, teams in Europe's most prestigious competitions will have to include eight home-grown players in their 25-men squads - four from within their own academy and four developed within the same national association - in order to end the domination of imported players.

However, the top clubs in the Premiership, who are already operating under an academy system that restricts them signing young English players from all over the country, are set to launch a protest through the influential lobbying group of leading clubs, G-14.

The clubs fear that the governing body will impose the rules on domestic competitions as well and have already drawn up plans to oppose it. The Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, said last night that any attempt to extend the rules to the Premiership would put the league's popularity "in peril".

The Champions' League measures will be introduced in stages from the beginning of the 2006-07 season. The first season will impose a quota of a minimum of four home-grown players in a squad. That number will be increased to six the next season and eight in 2008-09.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Celtic, Rangers and Ajax would have all failed to make those quotas this season. In order to qualify as home-grown, a player must have been registered for a minimum of three seasons with the club between the ages of 15 and 21.

The nationality of the players would not be an issue - in order to avoid a legal challenge - and therefore Manchester United's Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo would qualify as a home-grown player once he completes three seasons with the club in the summer of 2006.

In the Premiership, clubs like United are already keen to scrap rules that prevent them from signing players between the ages of eight and 12 unless they live within an hour of their ground. Players between the ages of 12 and 18 have to live within 90 minutes of the ground.

Because all these players are under contract, even those aged eight, any movement costs clubs large transfer fees. It is therefore cheaper to buy young players from abroad when the transfer fee is set by Uefa and considerably lower. United, who bought Gerard Pique from Barcelona, and Arsenal, who acquired Cesc Fabregas from the same club, have both taken that approach.

Dein said that when Uefa's measures were put before the 20 Premiership chairmen earlier this month they voted against them unanimously. He added: "Few Premier League squads meet these proposals and the quality would suffer. At the moment we have the most successful league in the world.

"If it was introduced, clubs would have to restrict themselves and we don't think that is a very good thing for English football. All the Premier League clubs have academies and are spending millions on developing young players."