Football League looks at limits

Football League looks at limits



If an English or French soccer team wants to put 11 Italians or Germans out on the field, there's nothing to stop it. The free movement of talent within Europe has been enshrined in law for four years.

What's becoming the big question is how many Brazilians or Africans can take the field.

The issue of players from outside the European Community is hot because high-quality players from outside Europe often come cheaper than their European counterparts, providing clubs some relief from rising salaries.

Premier League rules say that clubs cannot play more than three non-European players in any game. But the Football League, the 72 pro clubs below the Premier League, has no restrictions. Although its clubs have not started to import non-Europeans in significant numbers, such a policy could prove attractive if financial pressures continue to increase. The only thing standing between a non-European and an English roster is having to get a work permit.

England's Football Association says moves to limit the number of non-European players have made progress, after a British government minister said that alteration of work permit regulations must come from within the sport itself.

The British government cannot on its own change basic work permit regulations, which are the same throughout the 15-member European Union. All 15 EU members would have to vote for any changes. The British Ministry for Employment and Equal Opportunities has said it is up to soccer authorities to decide "whether they wish to devise and administer a quota system to limit the number of non-[European Economic Area] players."

The FA says it would share responsibility for the number of players from outside Europe with the Premier League and the Football League, and will work with the government to decide how that can be done.

Not surprisingly, the FA has the support of the soccer union, the Professional Footballers Association, in wanting to impose tighter controls on the entry of foreigners.

Following up on the government's unveiling July 25 of a new Football Foundation to distribute generous soccer subsidies (see related story), Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, said, "When these young players come up from the grass roots, they are going to find their route blocked because the top clubs have filled their squads with overseas players."

In other words, while the system of the future might start producing better English players, clubs may be able to import goods of the same quality more cheaply.

Jay Stuart is editorial director of SporTVision magazine and Sports TV Report and Sports Investor newsletters.

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