As Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, stayed on a collision course yesterday with the European Union over quotas in football, there were fears within the Premier League that a fudged compromise to limit foreign players might create more problems than it solves.
"At the extreme end of things, we might end up with a scenario where, actually, greater numbers of players, kids basically, are being moved between countries and trafficked among clubs to get around restrictions," a source said.
That "counter-productive" result might happen if Blatter fails in his attempt to impose a nationality-based quota on clubs – his first-choice plan – and instead adopts a quota system currently used by Uefa, not based on nationality, which it imposes, quite legally, at domestic level in all leagues.
Uefa's quota system is based on "home-reared" players, and has already been in place for Uefa tournaments since 2006.
When it started – as the so-called 2+2 rule – clubs' 25-man squads needed to include at least two players trained by that club for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21, plus two more trained within the same national association. By 2008-09, Uefa's rule for Uefa competitions will be 4+4. Crucially, however, these rules are not based on nationality. If Arsenal, for example, recruit Spanish youngsters and train them, they are "home-reared" for Uefa purposes. Cesc Fabregas counts as home-reared.
For now, Uefa's rules apply only to the Uefa Cup and Champions League, but if Blatter fails to impose his own 6+5 plan on world football – which would restrict clubs to a maximum of five foreigners, based purely and solely on nationality – his logical next step will be to take a version of Uefa's plan and impose that on all domestic leagues instead.
The Premier League and its 20 member clubs, especially the "big four" are opposed to Blatter's 6+5, believing it is illegal as well as counter-productive. It is understood they would not be so opposed to a version of Uefa's quota system. "Actually, it wouldn't make a lot of difference to us." one source said.
Another expressed concerns, however, "that it would be essentially an invitation to exacerbate a problem we already have. Any quota will force up the prices of English players, placing even more emphasis on going overseas. And if you can fill your academy with 'home-grown' foreign players within the rules, it'll only happen more frequently."
At Fifa's congress in Sydney yesterday, Blatter received huge backing – 155 votes to five – to explore further his 6+5 plan.
"It was an overwhelming majority, overwhelming support," he said. "I am sure it will be done, I am very confident about it."
In a curious sideshow, the Football Association, opposed in principle to quotas, voted with Blatter having been mandated by the FA Board to vote against. Conspiracy theorists will suggest Brian Barwick wanted to keep Blatter onside for England's 2018 World Cup bid. Pragmatists at Soho Square argue Barwick was not voting for quotas, merely a harmless exploration that probably will not lead anywhere near their implementation.
Blatter faces an uphill struggle in the face of all evidence, and multiple warnings from the European Commission that his plan contravenes EU law, yet he still seems to believe he can force a change in legislation to make it happen.
An EC spokesman could not have been clearer than when saying: "[The 6+5 rule] would be direct discrimination on the basis of nationality, which is unacceptable. It's a non-starter. Professional football players are workers, therefore the principle of non-discrimination and the right to free movement apply to them. If EU member states allowed the application of the 6+5 rule, they would be in breach of EU law and players who are discriminated against could take the member states to court, and they would win."
Yet Blatter, who does not seem to grasp that laws apply to Fifa and himself, said: "Speaking about it is illegal? For whom? For when? If there is a law, a law can be amended. I have already a meeting planned with the speaker of the European Parliament on 5 June in Brussels, as he said, to explore now the ways [forward].
"If he says to explore the ways, it's not to say 'stop it', so you see we're on the right track."
Blatter has been encouraged by support from such notables as Franz Beckenbauer, who is now the chairman of Fifa's football committee, and Michel Platini, the head of Uefa. Both those senior figures are among many who acknowledge that more could and should be done to nurture players and improve training in all countries.
They also acknowledge that some of the richest clubs can "stockpile" the best players, and that this is leading to a decline in competitive balance, but they also know that quotas based solely on passports cannot be imposed within the EU. Hence Uefa's own quota system, for all its failings, including the possibility that if and when if it is rolled out across domestic leagues, trafficking in children will increase.
Platini says he fully supports Blatter's aims. "It [quotas] is a thorny issue. Europe is not in a comfortable position, but we will do all we can to help the Fifa president reach this objective," he said.
Why 6+5 could equal trouble: How the Premier League teams add up
Fifa's definition of the proposed 6+5 rule: "At the beginning of each match, each club must field at least six players eligible to play for the national team of the country of the club. However, there is no restriction on the number of [foreign] players under contract with a club, nor on [nationality of substitutes], so potentially you could have "3+8" at the end of a match."
*Fifa's dream timetable to implementation: 2010-11 season: 4+7 (maximum of seven foreign players in starting XI).
2011-12 season: 5+6 (maximum of six foreign players in XI).
2012-13 season: 6+5 implemented in full.
If 6+5 had been in place on the last day of the 2007-08 Premier League season, here is how each club would have fared:
FAILED VERY BADLY Only Theo Walcott was English. Five Englishmen short.
PASSED Six English players started: Carson, Knight, Reo-Coker, Barry, Young and Agbonlahor.
FAILED. Only three English-qualified players started: Ridgewell, Murphy and Muamba. Three short.
FAILED Only three English players started: Warnock, Bentley and Roberts. Three short.
PASSED Six English players started: Cahill, Samuel, Davies, McCann, Nolan and Taylor.
FAILED Only four English players started: Terry, A Cole, Lampard, J Cole. Two short.
FAILED Only three English players started: Mears, Moore and Jones. Three short.
FAILED. Only four English players started: Neville, Jagielka, Lescott and Osman. Two short.
FAILED Only three English players started: Konchesky, Murphy and Bullard. Three short.
FAILED BADLY Only two English players started: Carragher and Gerrard. Four short.
FAILED BADLY Only two English players started: Ball and Vassell. Four short.
JUST FAILED Five English players started: Brown, Ferdinand, Scholes, Carrick and Rooney. One short.
FAILED Only four English players started: Young, Riggott, Wheater and Downing. Two short.
PASSED Six English players started: Harper, Taylor, Butt, Smith, Owen and Carroll.
FAILED Only three English players started: Ashdown, Johnson and Defoe. Three short.
JUST FAILED Five English players started: Duberry, Shorey, Harper, Lita and Kitson. One short.
FAILED Only three English players started: Whitehead, Nosworthy and Leadbitter. Three short.
FAILED Only four English players started: Dawson, Woodgate, Jenas and O'Hara. Two short.
PASSED WITH FLYING COLOURS Seven English players started: Green, Tomkins, Ferdinand, Noble, Parker, Zamora and Ashton.
JUST FAILED Five English players started: Kirkland, Bramble, Brown, M Bent and Heskey. One short.Reuse content