The Premier League have accepted for the first time that they will have to impose quotas of home-grown players in order to encourage their 20 member clubs to develop English players for the national team. The League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has also proposed financial incentives for teams who award home-grown players professional contracts.
The proposals mark a sea change in the mood of Scudamore and the 20 clubs who had previously been opposed to any form of quota system and they come in response to pressure from Uefa, Fifa and questions from culture secretary Andy Burnham. The 20 clubs will discuss the system at a shareholders' meeting next month and the earliest they could be imposed would be the 2010-2011 season.
The measures are nothing like as radical as Fifa president Sepp Blatter's "6+5" proposal – it stipulates no more than five foreigners in any XI – which Scudamore considers unworkable under European Union law. Instead, the Premier League would work on the "4+4" principle: four homegrown players who were developed by the club in question and four more who were developed by another English club. It has not yet been decided whether the "4+4" would apply to a club's entire squad or the match-day squad of 18.
These rules are the same applied by Uefa for their Champions League squads and they define a homegrown player as one who has been developed by his club for three successive years between the ages of 15 and 21. As long as they meet that criteria players can qualify as homegrown irrespective of nationality, meaning that Cesc Fabregas and Cristiano Ronaldo are considered to be homegrown by Arsenal and Manchester United. Scudamore said: "We are not protectionist by nature. We don't want to place artificial limits on who can and cannot come in to the League. Philosophically we are asking: is there more we could be doing to develop English talent that negates the need for clubs to go abroad for players? Can we do anything to make sure that the home talent is as good as it can be?"
The financial incentives to give homegrown players professional contracts once they turn 17 is a new move for the Premier League but as yet no details have been decided upon. This is open to all sorts of debate not least: what if the money earned by a club for keeping homegrown players then went towards the transfer fee for an established foreign player who would in turn keep the aforementioned youngsters out of the team. The "4+4" quota would cause no problem for Manchester United who meet the Champions League criteria comfortably and can name more than eight first-teamers who qualify as homegrown by them alone.
Chelsea however, in the past, have named a Champions League squad of fewer than 25 because they have not had the requisite "4+4" developed in their academy and at another one in the association. They have supplemented their squads in the past with "List B" players from reserve and academy squads.
Scudamore defended the Premier League's role in the development of young English talent, claiming that according to the official Actim statistical analysis, the top six-rated players were all English: Joleon Lescott, John Terry, Jamie Carragher, Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. He also claimed that between 40 and 50 per cent of the Premier League players who played most weeks were eligible to play for England.
On critics such as the Uefa president, Michel Platini, who has attacked the debt of English clubs and their foreign ownership, Scudamore said: "Some people make sweeping statements about the Premier League. There is no other league that redistributes wealth like we do. Because we are as successful as we are it's hard to see what we can do to stop people having a go at us."
Numbers game: How quotas could work
How would the quotas work? Clubs would be required to include four 'homegrown' players developed by the club and four developed by another English club. These would not be as drastic as Sepp Blatter's "6+5" proposal, where clubs would not be allowed to field over five foreigners.
How will clubs be affected? It is not decided whether the "4+4" players have to come from the entire squad or the matchday squad of 18. If the latter is the case, the matchday squads picked by Arsenal and Chelsea on Sunday would be short of requirements. John Terry and Michael Mancienne were Chelsea's home-grown players while Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole would qualify as English. Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou, Nicklas Bendtner, Vito Mannone and Kieran Gibbs would qualify as home-grown while Denilson becomes a home-grown player from August, due to his being at the club for three years.
Which players will qualify as home-grown? A home-grown player is one that has spent three successive seasons at his club between the ages of 15 and 21. So Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas and Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo qualify.
Will squad caps work? Will they close the gap between the 'Big Four' and the rest? Have your say on the message boards at independent.co.uk/premierleaguedebate