There is no guarantee that words will be followed by actions when Sepp Blatter embarks on one of his crusades, for which Arsène Wenger, Rafael Benitez, and whoever is managing Chelsea next season, will be grateful.
The Fifa president yesterday launched a campaign aimed at introducing quotas to restrict the number of foreign players in club teams to five. This would leave most Premier League managers struggling to raise a decent XI, notably Wenger, Benitez and, for now, Avram Grant.
At present EU law prevents such quotas but Fifa are lobbying for sport to be given dispensation to make its own laws ahead of this month's EU summit in Lisbon.
"When you have 11 foreigners in a team, this is not good for the development of football," said Blatter. "Football has never had the courage to go against this practice but it must now."
He added: "This is a matter of principle. We need to protect the national identity of the football clubs. The EU say that this is not possible based on free circulation of workers but in football principles are different – footballers are not workers and you must be 11 players not one."
Wenger, unsurprisingly, disagreed. "Sport is competitive and competition is based on merit," he said. "It does not matter where you are born. It matters who you are. It is my first responsibility for my club for us to play the best football, with the best players."
Blatter's comments came as an NOP poll of football fans, for BBC1's Football Focus, revealed 56 per cent of the 1,055 people surveyed were in favour of such quotas. Uefa already institute a limited quota for the Champions League, based on promoting clubs' youth products rather restricting foreigners. Chelsea were unable to meet even this minimal constraint and were forced to leave two places in their 25-man squad blank.
Of the starting line-ups likely to be fielded this weekend only Aston Villa and West Ham, with seven and six Englishmen respectively, meet Blatter's quota. Wigan and Sunderland are both expected to field five Englishmen. It is anticipated Wenger's Arsenal will take to the field without a single English player.Reuse content