Premiership scraps foreigner rule

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The Independent Online
Football

NICK DUXBURY

Life in football post-Bosman was further confused yesterday when the Premier League freed clubs to play as many European Union nationals as they want. In doing so the League bowed to the European Court's verdict but ran counter to the sport's governing bodies, Fifa and Uefa.

In addition, the move was described as "a knee-jerk reaction" by the Professional ers' Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, who predicted chaos within the sport and an influx of foreign players into the country.

The latest developments came a week after a five-year legal fight by the Belgian player, Jean-Marc Bosman, ended when the European Court ruled that restrictions on transfers and limits on foreigners broke European Union laws on workers' freedom of movement.

With the scrapping of the "three foreigners" rule, Manchester City were set to include four non-British players against Chelsea at Maine Road today. The decision by the League came after a joint statement by Fifa and Uefa in which they appeared to be prepared to defy the European Court over player limits and transfers.

The European Commission in Brussels responded by insisting that the Court ruling applied immediately and reserving its right to tackle the governing bodies if they stepped out of line.

"The European Court has made a ruling which is directly applicable in the member countries so we would expect the countries to go along with that court ruling," a spokesman for the EU executive said. "Whether or not the Commission would initiate a [legal] procedure remains to be seen. That's not to be excluded."

In their statement, Fifa and Uefa told national associations - some of whom fear a collapse of their domestic transfer systems because players can now move for free at the end of their contracts - "not to panic" and that a solution to the crisis could be found.

The Premier League, however, found it had no option but to implement the law. "We have today advised our clubs that, with immediate effect, the restrictions which govern foreign players can no longer be applied to citizens of the European Union," Rick Parry, the League's chief executive, said. "Clubs are therefore free to play as many European Union nationals as they see fit."

Parry added: "We believe that we are acting sensibly and appropriately. We are aware of the statement issued by Fifa and Uefa. We accept fully that, in the interest of continuity and fairness, competition rules should not be changed partway through the season. However, our legal advice is clear - rules on EU nationals, even if maintained, cannot be enforced. We will continue to take legal advice on the transfer system."

Manchester City, whose request for permission to field the Dane Ronnie Ekelund alongside the Germans Eike Immel and Uwe Rosler and the Georgian Georgi Kinkladze prompted the League's action, were delighted with the outcome.

"It's marvellous news," Colin Barlow, the club's managing director, said. "We knew we were within the law so far as Brussels were concerned."

Taylor, the players' union leader, was far less happy. "We fear there could be a flood of imported players into this country," he said. "What we have had today is a knee-jerk reaction to the court ruling rather than something arising from discussions and that will cause chaos."

He stressed that if the Premier League was now rushing to embrace the Bosman verdict, it had to accept the findings wholesale, and not piecemeal. "You can't just have one part of the judgement," he said.

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