FA backs 'further exploration' of six-plus-five rule

Friday 30 May 2008 11:44 BST

The Football Association have confirmed they voted "in favour of further exploration" of Fifa's six-plus-five rule proposal.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has said he hopes the controversial rule, limiting clubs to five foreign players, will be in place by the 2012/13 season.

His vision appears to be a step closer following the overwhelming backing at Fifa's annual congress in Sydney, Australia today.

And the FA have confirmed they voted in favour because of their desire to increase the development of "high-quality" homegrown players, but admitted their concerns that the rule would seem to contravene European law.

Fifa boss Blatter has pointed to the Premier League's dominance in this season's Champions League as an example of why his organisation must implement the idea, despite legal concerns from the European Union.

An FA spokesman said: "Bringing through more high-quality English players in the future is an absolute priority for the FA.

"One of our reservations has always been that the 'six-plus-five' rule appears to contravene European law and we welcome further exploration of its legality.

"However, this is a question of balance and we believe first and foremost in a meritocracy system, where players appear in club teams based on performance and ability.

"This is at the core of our coach and player development strategy over the coming years."

The Premier League issued a statement this morning insisting while they want the competition to feature as many English players as possible, it must remain a meritocracy.

"EU official spokespeople have repeatedly said that a nationality-based player quota system would be unlawful within the European Union," the statement said.

"They have also stated that any form of gentleman's agreement to achieve this objective would be instantly challengeable.

"We want to see the greatest possible number of England-qualified players coming through in the Premier League, but this has to be based on merit and quality, and there is no doubting that foreign talent has aided the technical development of the English game."

While Blatter seems determined to press ahead despite opposition from clubs and the European Union, Uefa is well aware of the difficulties which lie ahead but endorse the 'objectives' of the proposal such as enhancing player development and protecting national teams.

Bearing those concerns in mind, a statement on Uefa's website said: "Against this background, the following text, agreed by the Fifa President and the Uefa Executive Committee, was presented to the 53 Uefamember associations for approval at the upcoming Fifa Congress:

"'The Fifa Congress fully supports the objectives of the 'six-plus-five' rule and asks the President of Fifa and the President of Uefa to continue to explore, together with the sports movement, all possible means within the limits of the law to ensure that these crucial sporting objectives be achieved."

Stressing Fifa would proceed "within the limits of the law", Blatter said this week: "It's to make sure that there is better balance in the competitions and not only three or four teams in a league of 18 or 20 are fighting to be the champion and all the others are just there to not be relegated.

"As (Newcastle manager) Kevin Keegan recently said: 'I can only start my season to fight to be fifth or sixth or seventh. It is impossible for me to go into the final four'.

"At the end of the Champions League in Europe you have in the quarter-finals four teams of the same association; in the semi-finals three of these teams.

"Then in the final you are surprised that you have two teams of the same association?

"We want to bring some remedies and this is the six-plus-five rule's objective."

Despite FIFA backing the plan, the European Union has already indicated it would contravene European laws.

"We are giving the red card to the 'six-plus-five' rule," Europe's commissioner for equal opportunities, Vladimir Spidla, said on Wednesday.

Fifa's controversial proposal is different from a "home-grown players" rule proposed by Uefa, European football's governing body.

Uefa defines "home-grown players" as team members who, regardless of age or nationality, have been trained by their club or by another club in the national association for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21.

The Commission has approved the Uefa arrangement because, says Brussels, it contains no player conditions based on nationality.

Spidla said: "Compared with the intentions announced by Fifa to impose the so-called 'six-plus-five' rule, which is directly discriminatory and therefore incompatible with the EU law, the 'home-grown players' rule proposed by Uefa seems to me to be proportionate and to comply with the principle of free movement of workers."

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