Leave soccer transfer system alone, say Blair and Schröder

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The Independent Football

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his German counterpart, Gerhard Schröder, have warned the European Commission not to scrap the worldwide transfer system for soccer players.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his German counterpart, Gerhard Schröder, have warned the European Commission not to scrap the worldwide transfer system for soccer players.

Football has been given until 31 October to come up with an alternative to the present scheme, under which clubs are free to "sell" players, because the EC believes it to be illegal under present employment law.

But last night a joint statement released by Downing Street warned against "radical reform", confirming the feeling within football circles that domestic governments are on their side.

Last week, the 20 Premier League chairmen agreed to sign a declaration backing the present system, which although it is acknowledged contains many flaws, is seen as the most viable structure for the transfer of players between clubs and countries.

The backing of Mr Blair and Mr Schröder is highly significant given the influence they hold within the European Union. "We acknowledge the current system is not perfect," said the joint statement. "We fear, however, that a radical reform could have a negative impact on the structures of football in Europe.

"We share concerns that many smaller professional clubs would struggle to survive.

"We believe that any solution has to balance the justified interests of both the players, the clubs and the associations."

The EC is opposed to escalating transfer fees, which it believes is wrecking the competitive spirit of the game.

Proposed changes to the system include a complete ban on international transfers for players aged under 18 and a set compensation system to cover youth development for the transfer of players under 24.

The intervention of Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder was welcomed by David Davies, executive director of the Football Association.

"Obviously the joint support of the British Prime Minister and German Chancellor is hugely pleasing to us," he said. "Everybody is aware of the seriousness of the situation and the difficulties."

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