Football: England set to introduce 'foreigners' rule: Ferguson criticises FA plans to get in step with Europe over non-English players as he struggles to name a side for Champions' League

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PLAYERS like Mark Hughes, Dean Saunders and Gary McAllister are likely to find themselves part of an elite minority in the domestic game as well as in Europe. The Football Association is backing a move to follow Uefa guidelines regarding most Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland players as 'foreigners'.

Under the rules governing squads for European games, only five non-English players can be included, with a maximum of three overseas players and five 'assimilated' players - who are not English but have been with their English club for five years, including three years in the youth scheme.

Clubs would have a three-to five-year period to adjust to what would be one of the most radical changes in domestic football for years.

Manchester United fielded seven players who would be affected on Saturday against West Ham, while Aston Villa and Everton each had six.

The FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, has promised support for any new regulations, which he believes would help the development of English players.

'We are looking at the situation,' he said. 'We believe there is a need to examine current regulations to determine if it would be advantageous to the English game and the production and progress of our own players to apply a similar classification to Europe.

'We are also seeking to explore the possibility that such a move would have a beneficial effect on spiralling transfer fees.'

As voices continue to be raised in world football regarding Britain's privileged status in having four international sides, the change would also do no harm in reaffirming 'national' separateness.

The other national associations will not be keen on the idea of most of their players being shut out of one of the world's strongest leagues. The clubs, too, are unlikely to approve, and the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, whose job has been complicated in European competition under the foreigner rules, was vociferous in his condemnation.

'It would be a disaster for clubs like ours who have worked tremendously hard to develop players from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,' Ferguson said. 'It would effectively close the door to some great talents. Where would the game have been without people like George Best, Denis Law and Danny Blanchflower?'

Ferguson faces severe selection problems as Wednesday's Champions' League game against Barcelona looms. Lee Sharpe and David May, two Englishmen vital because of the foreigners rule, have groin and knee injuries respectively.

Eric Cantona is suspended and two other Anglos, Paul Parker and Paul Ince, are injured, as well as Mark Hughes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs.

Dennis Wise has been sacked as Chelsea captain by his manager, Glenn Hoddle.

The England international, whose discipline has given Hoddle cause for concern over the past year, was accused of damaging a taxi after leaving Scribes West, the club owned by the England manager, Terry Venables. Gavin Peacock replaces him.

Overseas football, page 33