Football: France to ban 'child transfers'

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The Independent Online
AFTER ACCUSING Arsenal of "trading in children", the French sports minister announced yesterday that she was drafting a law which would prevent the transfer of footballers less than 18 years old.

This follows the deal struck by the north London club to sign a 15-year- old French prodigy, Jeremie Aliadiere, from the start of next season.

The new law would prevent all transfers of French sportsmen and women less than 18 years old - whether to domestic or foreign clubs. It would also force young players to sign their first professional contract with the club which had trained them.

Although not specifically targeted against a "boy drain" to rich foreign clubs - such a restriction might break European Union rules on free movement - the new law would, in effect, make it impossible for clubs abroad to raid French youth teams. If already on the statute book, it would have blocked the Aliadiere deal but also the transfer of Nicholas Anelka, then 17, from Paris St-Germain to Arsenal two years ago.

"If we don't want to see the development of a trade in children and see our training centres become wholesale markets for the wealthiest clubs, we must legislate without delay," Marie-George Buffet, the sports minister, told the French newspaper Le Monde. Ms Buffet, who has also led the drive to clean drugs out of French sport, said she was "deeply worried" by the Aliadiere case. There was now a "veritable traffic" in young football talent, she said.

Her words echoed the complaints of the French football federation, which has accused some French coaches of "treason", in acting both as trainers of young players and paid scouts for wealthy clubs abroad.

The fact that Arsenal are managed by a Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, has generally increased, rather than calmed, the sense of outrage in France. The fear currently prevailing is that unless something is done, French managers working abroad will siphon all the best young talent out of the country.