League may defy Fifa over transfer windows

New international system for signings: Financial problems of smaller English clubs likely to increase but Gallic ability attracts big spenders
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The Independent Online

The Football League and the players' union yesterday joined forces to oppose the introduction of transfer windows in the domestic game.

From August onwards, under rules laid down by the game's world governing body, Fifa, clubs will only be allowed to transfer players during the month of January or during the close season, both within English football or abroad.

The League and the Professional Footballers' Association both fear that the rules will also affect loan signings, and have launched a campaign opposing the move. They claim they have the support of the European Commission and have even threatened to defy the new rules and operate between the three divisions as before.

The future may hinge on whether the Premier League decides to adopt domestic transfer windows. It is currently taking legal advice on whether it is obliged to, and will make a decision within the next month.

The Football League's director of operations, Andy Williamson, said that such a move would intensify the problems clubs are already facing from the ITV Digital crisis.

"We are vehemently opposed to the introduction of domestic transfer windows, though we have no issue with them applying internationally," Williamson said. "Our game in this country has relied on the transfer system historically – it has been the lifeblood of many clubs and it is vital to maintain that flexibility."

Last season, Nationwide clubs made £24m from transfer dealings with top-flight sides, and Williamson said that many lower-division clubs could not afford to maintain huge squads to cover injuries and suspensions.

"They cannot afford to cover for every eventuality, but Fifa have said transfer windows will not only apply to domestic and international transfers, but will also embrace player loans," he added.

"We would encourage Premier League clubs to maintain solidarity and keep the transfer system open domestically. They do have a choice, and we have a letter from EC competitions commissioner, Viviane Reding, confirming they do not have to adopt the Fifa arrangement."

The PFA's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, is backing the League. "Transfers can be so important to the smaller clubs, and this would be one more restriction at a time when there are already major problems due to ITV Digital," he said. "A transfer could mean the difference between a club staying alive or folding.

"The Premier League feels there could be legal problems if a player can move domestically but not internationally, but the Football League is prepared to take that chance."

It is exactly that fear which could lead to the Premier League falling into line with Fifa rather than risk a Bosman-style court case which would be incredibly costly to the game. The Premier League has lawyers working on the issue, but legal opinion has been divided.

A Premier League spokesman, Philip French, said: "We have every sympathy with the Football League on this issue.

"The Premier League has never wanted to introduce such measures but we may have little choice as these rules have been imposed by Fifa, which maintains that without them the entire transfer agreement with the European Commission would be under threat.

"Fifa believes this is the price football has to pay to maintain stability after the massive problems caused by the Commission and the international players' union in undermining the transfer system.

"However, all is not yet lost and we are still working vigorously to see if there is legally any possibility we can operate a dual system."

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