Libero: Permits are not working

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The Independent Online
The thorny question of work permits in English football is likely to be reviewed, the government department administering the system has told Libero. The admission, though, is unlikely to soothe a seething Liverpool, who are considering legal action over the refusal, after seven weeks' delay, to admit the American goalkeeper Brad Friedel. This while the Tottenham coach Christian Gross was granted a permit within a few days.

The Department for Education and Employment's system of allocating permits to non- European Union sportsmen is full of anomalies and discrepancies. In rugby union, for example, incoming players have only to have played as an international in the previous 18 months while in football they must have appeared in "approximately" 75 per cent of their country's matches for the past two seasons.

When it comes to managers or coaches, the criteria are less specific. "There is clear statistical evidence available to determine whether players are eligible," says the DFEE's spokesman Mark Williams. "With managers it is more general in determining whether they are of a high enough international standing. It is more subjective and, yes, it would be fair to say that we will be looking again at the criteria as more arrive in this country."

The department decided that the Swiss Gross came up to the required standard, hence his swift approval. The case of the American second-string goalkeeper Friedel, Williams adds, was more complicated as the case officer considered the statistics and evidence from the FA and PFA. "We are baffled," says the Liverpool press officer Ian Cotton. "We asked over a week ago for the written reasons for Brad being turned down so that we could take barrister's advice before taking it further. But despite the DFEE apparently announcing that he had played 'only' 71.4 per cent of the USA's games, we have heard nothing."

While there may be agreement that criteria for managers and coaches may be reviewed, it does begin to look as if the DFEE should also be considering changing them for players as the footballing map is redrawn post-Bosman. In theory, it is only right that the jobs of English players should be protected from cheap, mediocre imports from far-flung corners of the globe. The criteria, which include providing evidence to the DFEE that the players will be of high quality and paid as such, were drawn up in consultation with the game's governing bodies. "We are not the bogeymen here," says Williams, who adds that rugby's more relaxed rules come from the professional game being less developed, and less flooded, than football's.

The problem now is that cheap, mediocre imports are arriving in football from within the EU while top-quality players from, say, South America can be excluded. It is easy for those from smaller nations to satisfy the requirements. Under present regulations, Juninho, out of the Brazilian team for a while, would be excluded as would many of his compatriots at present flourishing in Europe, such as Elber at Bayern Munich and Sonny Anderson at Barcelona.

With more Premiership managers rotating their squads, we are also likely to see more and more struggles to renew work permits, non-EU players being expected to play in 75 per cent of first-team games.

Perhaps the answer would be a panel of representatives from within the game, to include the League Managers' Association as well as the FA and PFA, under the chairmanship of someone like Sir Bobby Charlton, to adjudicate in borderline cases. Decisions, certainly to Liverpool, might then be more consistent and understandable.

All the power will be with players once the full effect of the Bosman ruling is felt, it was always thought. Sheffield Wednesday struck back last week by telling Mark Pembridge, a free agent next summer, that he could face a season frozen out of the first team unless he signed a new contract.

Pembridge has declined to be sent more literally to Coventry, a transfer which would have brought David Burrows to Wednesday, and in six months' time his value will be limited. Signing a new contract simply means the club can get a transfer fee for him, not that they necessarily want him. The longer the deal, the greater the fee.

Players being edged out when a new manager with different preferences arrives - in this case Ron Atkinson - is nothing new. The only new element in these complicated contractual days may be that we realise more readily - unlike with work-permits - why certain players are no longer in favour.

Following Ray Harford's move to Queen's Park Rangers, it will be interesting to see what he makes of the large notepad on an easel in the dressing- room used by his predecessor Stewart Houston to illustrate coaching points. Before Houston's last home match, there were apparently some 20 pages of instructions for the information-overloaded QPR players.

Gatwick , rather than Dublin, is being mooted now as the new destination for Wimbledon when they quit Selhurst Park. Perhaps they can ground-share with Brighton and kill two tedious stories - rivalled only by Juventus's reported interest in investing in Crystal Palace - with one stone-turning ceremony.