Clubs may be forced to field locally trained players

 

Football's governing authorities are considering radical new plans designed to force the richest clubs to give home-grown players more of a chance to make the grade.

The Independent on Sunday has learned that talks on the so-called nine-plus-nine proposal are at an advanced stage between Fifa and Uefa after all previous attempts at promoting youth development failed to gain sufficient support.

The plans, which would require half of a club's 18-man squad to have been "locally trained" for three years under the age of 21 within the same national association, still have to be approved by the European Union.

The new rules are initially designed for European competition. Under the plan Manchester City would have been three "locally trained" players short under nine-plus-nine when they took on Villarreal in the Champions' League last week.

If they are extended to the Premier League, as seems likely, City would also suffer. They would have been three "assimilated" players short in their 18-man team sheet against Wolves eight days ago. Even Arsène Wenger, arguably the canniest when it comes to drafting in overseas players at a tender age and moulding them into home-grown Arsenal stars, would also have found himself three locally trained players short in that remarkable 5-3 win at Chelsea.

The revamp would replace Sepp Blatter's doomed six-plus-five idea which was adopted by Fifa in May 2008 but never got off the ground because it related to nationality and fell foul of European law.

The EU accepted, however, Uefa's alternative quota system which is not based on nationality and currently stipulates that eight locally trained players must be included in every 25-man Champions' League and Europa League squad.

The crucial difference with nine-plus-nine is that a minimum of two locally trained players would have to make every starting line-up, with seven on the bench.

"This time they will have to be on the match sheet rather than just the squad," a Uefa source said. "We are talking about nine players who have come through the associations. Six-plus-five didn't work because you can't discriminate according to nationality. We think this will work."

The president of Uefa, Michel Platini, is a key player in the current talks to protect local identity and stop teams chopping and changing and buying up all the best foreign talent. "We understand the [European] Commission's position but still want to try to protect the local identity of clubs," said Platini.

"We have studied this more carefully and have now come up with the idea of nine-plus-nine. But before we propose this to the Commission, we have to make sure the whole football family support it."

The move, while bound to be welcomed by lower-ranked clubs, seems certain to infuriate the elite. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman of the European Club Association, said nine-plus-nine would reduce a club's ability to pick the best players and encourage "child hunting" of teenage talent around the world.

"The European Club Association has explicitly rejected it," he said. "I am convinced Fifa and Uefa have not thought this through in detail."

But the authorities are pressing ahead with the idea, designed to make sure home-grown players do not simply end up as squad also-rans. "The EU have accepted our regulations that locally trained does not involve discrimination," said the Uefa source. "Currently you can still end up fielding 11so-called foreigners. Nine-plus-nine would change that."

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