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Football: Clubs and agents accused of `slavery'

A leading Belgian law professor has accused football of "slavery" in the game's treatment of players from Eastern Europe.

Roger Blanplain, a professor at Belgium's Leuven university, said yesterday that he is taking court action against agents and clubs for their methods.

"That sort of slave trade in which someone is bought cheaply and sold expensively... totally violates the basic principle that people are not merchandise and labour is not a merchandise, and this has to be challenged in a radical way," Blanpain said.

In an open letter he urged the chief prosecutors in the cities of Antwerp and Bruges to investigate trade of Eastern European players "which apparently takes place on a large scale in Belgium".

Blanpain was acting after a newspaper article in Het Nieuwsblad on Tuesday describing the large influx of players from East Europe.

The paper said "the delivery of Yugoslav and Croatian footballers to Belgium "was often organised through an Antwerp agent.

"These players are often placed at a club-employer and then possibly sold with a profit to another club-employer," Blanpain said in the letter.

He said these practices violated Belgian law which prohibited the broking of jobs in exchange for money.

Blanpain also criticised the move earlier this week of Bruges player Gunter Verjans to Antwerp on loan for a six-month period.

The move of Verjans, who has a contract with Bruges until 2000, breached the law on temporary employment, Blanpain said.

He asked the Antwerp and Bruges courts to examine the practices and, if needed, start legal proceedings to end them and prevent them from happening again.

Blanpain said it had been difficult to prove the trade in players.

"Players can't speak or don't dare to speak, club leaders will certainly not speak and agents are also very careful about what they say." he said.

"[But] now it can be proven, now there are clear facts showing there is a swindle in players." he said in a reference to the newspaper article.

Belgian football agent, Louis De Vries, told a radio station that agents were just trying to help players find a job, for a commission fee.

"As long as these [transfer] rules are valid internationally, there is nothing that can be done against it.

"[But] it would be easier for everyone in footall, also for agents and certainly for players, if no transfer sums would have to be paid." De Vries said.

West Ham are to wait until they know the full extent of goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko's neck injury before deciding whether to pursue the French international, Bernard Lama.

Miklosko could be ruled out for up to three months, but the Hammers, who have Canada international Craig Forrest as their current No 1, will not be rushed into finding a replacement until they know for sure.

Lama was yesterday reported to have confirmed he had already been involved in talks with the West Ham managing director, Peter Storrie, about a possible move to London.

The 34-year-old Paris St Germain goalkeeper, who has been capped 35 times by France, has been searching for a new club since being suspended for three months at the end of last season following a positive drugs test.

The French national coach, Aime Jacquet has told him he will not be considered for next year's World Cup finals unless he is playing regular first-team football.

Lama said: "I've no comment to make until things are settled. But I need to find a club to make France's World Cup squad."

Two Romanians playing in the Bundesliga, Ionut Lupescu and Florin Raducioiu, said yesterday that they would not play for their country at next summer's World Cup finals in France.