Football: Foreigner rule 'illegal'

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Uefa was yesterday warned that its European competitions will be deemed illegal unless the controversial three-foreigner rule is scrapped immediately.

European football's governing body was told by the European Union's executive commission that the stipulation which limits clubs to three foreign players plus two "assimilated" foreigners - those who have been playing in the country for five years or played there since youth-team level - has been made redundant.

The new rule means that national associations in the 15-member EU who maintain the rule in their domestic competitions will also be flouting European law. Padraig Flynn, the EU social affairs commissioner, said: "From now on, nationality restrictions are illegal in European-level club competitions. I expect those affected to take the necessary steps to change their rules."

Uefa has said that it will ignore the court ruling in the Champions' League, Cup- Winners' Cup and Uefa Cup competitions and insists it will not change the rules of the 49-member federation because of a court decision in the 15-nation European Union.

The Premier League yesterday confirmed that it had also advised member clubs to continue applying the three-foreigners rule in domestic competitions until further notice. Its spokesman, Mike Lee, said: "Our view at the moment is that the current rule still applies and we expect our clubs to abide by them." However, Flynn warned that the rule must be scrapped immediately so teams can play as many EU nationals as they want in any club match in the EU.

Bolton Wanderers could, if they take the latter advice, field four foreigners tonight against Norwich in the Coca-Cola Cup. Bolton have an injury crisis, and want to call up the Dutchman, Richard Sneekes. They already have Serbia's Sasa Curcic, Iceland's Gudni Bergsson and the Dutchman Fabian de Freitas in their team, which has kept Sneekes out in the cold under the old rule. Now he could come into the side and Bolton may escape punishment.

Similarly, Manchester City could play their new signing, Ronnie Ekelund, to make up a quartet of foreign players against Chelsea on Saturday. Alan Ball hopes that the Dane, signed from Barcelona, could join up with the Germans, Eike Immel and Uwe Rosler, along with the Georgian play-maker, Georgi Kinkladze.

Both the Premier League and League, which run the Coca-Cola Cup, have asked Bolton to stick by the old rules, but privately both organisations admit they could do little to enforce them. Adrian Cook, a Premier League spokesman, has sent a letter to clubs asking them to stand by the present rule book. "I suspect the rules may stay in place for the remainder of the season, rather than changing the goalposts half-way through," Cook said.

n Artur Jorge, the former Benfica coach, will become the new manager of Switzerland from next month, displacing the Englishman Roy Hodgson, who also manages Internazionale.

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