Uefa unites to defend transfers

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The football industry rarely speaks with one voice but mention the name of Jean-Marc Bosman and it seems everyone falls into line. Yesterday Uefa's 49 member associations banded together to warn of the dangers facing the game should it sacrifice the transfer system and the rules restricting foreign players.

Graham Kelly, the Football Association's chief executive, said the implications of the court victory achieved by Bosman, a previously little-known Belgian player who single-handedly had instilled fear and concern among the game's power brokers, would be "very serious for football right across Europe''.

North of the border, the predictions were cast in more gloomy tones - a "high percentage'' of clubs would go out of business, said the Scottish FA.

Simultaneously yesterday the president of every European footballing association were putting their names to an open letter aimed at persuading the European Commission and individual governments of the perils lying in wait for the game if it follows the Bosman route.

The FA has also written to the prime minister and the Labour leader, Tony Blair, seeking support. Kelly said sport, particularly professional sport, had a specific "peculiar" nature which should be recognised so that normal rules did not apply.

The European Court of Justice will give its decision in the New Year but is thought unlikely to go against the interim ruling in September of its Advocate-General, Carl Otto Lenz, who declared the transfer market and the limit on three foreigners per team to be illegal.

It followed Bosman's fight for justice, waged over five years, after his Belgian club, RFC Liege, cut his salary by three-quarters at the end of his contract and demanded a transfer fee, so preventing him joining a French side, Dunkirk.

Having considered the Advocate-General's ruling and a submission from Kelly that the English transfer system is an ideal role model for the European game to follow in the future, Uefa has now pinpointed the three "stark' implications arising from the case.

That power would be concentrated among a small number of rich clubs so reducing legitimate competition; that the traditional breeding grounds for new players, the small to medium-sized clubs, would be discouraged from pursuing youth development policies; and that the glut of foreign players across the top teams of Europe will harm national sides if home- grown talent is excluded.

In addition European football would be split into two parts operating two different systems. Indeed, Uefa warns that European union associations will be in a different position from the rest of the world.

Describing it as a "nonsensical dispute that could have been avoided so easily'', Kelly said the transfer structure was largely successful and should not be condemned because of one anomalous case. It did not need changing, although there have been discussions with the players union, the Professional Footballers' Association, as to how it could be improved.

The SFA's president, Bill Dickie, said scrapping the transfer system would sound the death knell for many of Scotland's 40 league clubs. "If there is no income from transfer fees then those who have been feeder clubs may cease to exist,'' he said. "Many communities would regret the loss of their local club which in good times and bad is the hub of their environment.''

His organisation is at odds with Rangers who are lobbying Uefa to have the foreigners rule abolished. The SFA's chief executive, Jim Farry, said the club's action was misguided and if successful would make them a "wee fish in a big pool''.

Newcastle had also wanted to challenge the restriction. Kelly said they had no support in the Premier League although Manchester United had objected to a proposal to extend the ruling to include Welsh, Irish and Scottish players.