Arsenal on collision course with Uefa over domestic player quotas

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The Independent Online

UEFA has resolved to take legal action against Arsenal if they oppose rules that impose quotas of home-grown players on Champions' League sides, after the Highbury club picked an all-foreign 16-man squad for Monday's win over Crystal Palace.

UEFA has resolved to take legal action against Arsenal if they oppose rules that impose quotas of home-grown players on Champions' League sides, after the Highbury club picked an all-foreign 16-man squad for Monday's win over Crystal Palace.

It was the first time an English club had selected a squad without an Englishman in its ranks and yesterday a Uefa spokesman restated the determination of the sport's European governing body to force through new quotas for home-grown players.

The Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, has voiced concerns about the proposed rule changes, which Uefa will lobby hard to impose on domestic football and would seriously undermine Arsenal's policy of investing in foreign talent.

The Uefa spokesman, William Gaillard, said: "We don't want to develop a situation where players have absolutely no local roots and clubs are no longer paying attention to their academies. Some extreme examples [Arsenal] are useful to show this but these [new quotas] will be the law of the game.

"Legal action is always a possibility in our society but we are ready to take that challenge. What I am disappointed with is that they [the clubs] are failing to read what the fans want and they are losing touch with them. That is a dangerous situation."

If the new rules had been introduced this season, not a single player in the Arsenal squad that beat Palace would have qualified as one of the four mandatory "home-grown" players - as defined by Uefa regulations - that will become a requirement for the top English sides by the 2006-2007 season.

The new Uefa quotas, which will be ratified at a congress in Estonia in April, require that, for Uefa competitions, clubs must have four home-grown players, although those individuals do not necessarily need to be native to the country that they play in.

Clubs must select two players who have been home-grown at the club and two who have, at the very least, been developed at a club in the same national association. A home-grown player must have been registered for a minimum of three seasons with the club between the ages of 15 and 21.

By the start of the 2006-2007 season, three players from Arsenal's squad on Monday - the Frenchman Gaël Clichy, Philippe Senderos from Switzerland and the Spanish player Cesc Fabregas - will qualify as home-grown players.

However, without another home-grown player - such as the injured Sol Campbell or the virus-stricken Ashley Cole - Arsenal's squad would have been illegal for Champions' League competition. With Uefa pressurising the Premier League to adopt the measures in time for the start of the 2006-2007 season, the question of foreign footballers is set to become one of the most divisive issues in the national game.

Uefa will also face opposition from clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester United over the quotas which by the 2008-2009 season are due to rise to eight home-grown players.

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said yesterday that he supported the Uefa quotas and criticised the Football Association chairman Geoff Thompson, and Dein, for lobbying against them. He said that it was Thompson's responsibility to protect the England team and criticised him for siding with the country's big clubs instead.

"It is one thing the clubs opposing it but why the chairman of the FA is doing the same is entirely a different matter," Taylor said. "If we can't get two academy players into a club side then what chance has our national team got? With Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Jermain Defoe we have shown that we can develop the talent.

"If they are given the opportunity they can do it. I can't be critical of Arsène Wenger because his job is to look after Arsenal but David Dein is one of the major voices at the FA and he is on the board and the international committee.

"But he is not promoting this Uefa policy [which will benefit international sides]. If the FA chairman and people on the international committee are not promoting it, what chance have we got?

"We have had many foreign players who have more than added to the quality of our game but the pool of English players who play regularly is contracting. For far too long we have had Premier League chairmen on international committees whose interests have been with the clubs and not the England team."

The FA do not yet have an official position on whether they support the Uefa quotas on home-grown players. Manchester United also oppose the measures, although 12 of their 16-man squad picked against Manchester City on Sunday would qualify immediately as home-grown players.

Wenger said yesterday he had not noticed that his squad did not include any English players. He said: "I don't look at their passports, I look at their quality and their attitude."

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