FIFA President Sepp Blatter supports limits on foreign players. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Soccer: John F. Molinaro
Blatter's quota system is misguided
Last Updated Friday, December 14, 2007
by John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
A German journalist once famously said that FIFA president Sepp Blatter "has 50 new ideas every day and 51 of them are bad."
We can now add No. 52 to the list.
Blatter recently said he wants to introduce a quota system that would limit pro clubs to having no more than five foreign players in their starting lineup, a scheme he believes would stimulate the development of more home-grown talent.
The "five and six rule" (five foreigners and six domestic players in the starting 11) would have serious ramifications for all of the major European leagues, perhaps, none more so than the English Premiership where 338 foreign-born players (an average of 16.9 per club) currently make their living.
Blatter will present his proposal for approval when FIFA's Congress meets in May and he hopes to have it implemented by the start of the 2010-11 league season.
There are so many flaws in Blatter's plan that one doesn't know where to begin, but the notion that a quota system would encourage the development of home-grown players seems as good a place as any to start.
There is absolutely no empirical evidence that local-born players are being denied the chance to start for their pro clubs due to the presence of foreign talent. None.
This is a common theory trotted out by critics of the English Premiership who point to the fact that the league's top four clubs (Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool) are flooded with foreign stars, and that Arsenal often plays with an all-foreign starting 11.
Cream tends to rise to the top – be it Joe Cole at Chelsea, Theo Walcott at Arsenal, Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, or Wayne Rooney at Manchester United. If a manager thinks a player is good enough to be in the starting lineup, then that player, regardless of his nationality, tends to find himself on field when the game kick offs. Period.
The idea that reducing the number of foreigners helps to produce more talented domestic players is equally absurd.
Italy and France reached the finals of the most recent World Cup in 2006, and the bulk of their respective rosters were comprised of players who turned pro between 1995 and 2002, when roughly half the players in Serie A and Ligue 1 came from other countries.
It would appear, then, that the presence of so many foreign stars in the Italian and French leagues helped the national teams of those countries, as players who make their living in France and Italy benefited from testing their skills against quality foreign players, as opposed to domestic players who can't quite make the grade.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has gone on record as saying quotas need to be introduced so that the English national team can rise to its former glory – the implication being that the flood of foreign players in the Premiership is stunting the growth and development of English talent, which in turns leads to a weakened national team.
Gerrard isn't the first to espouse this view. Such hand-wringing and introspection over the number of foreign players in Europe's top leagues is common, especially in those countries whose national teams have just suffered a major setback, much like England did in failing to qualify for Euro 2008.
But how does Gerrard explain the fact that England last won the World Cup in 1966 and it failed to qualify for three World Cups (1974, 1978 and 1994) long before the invasion of foreign players into the Premiership began in 1997?
Or the fact that Italy won the last World Cup even though the Italian league's three top teams – AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus – are loaded with foreign players?
Putting limits of foreign players would have a crippling effect on the game in Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria where teams rely on exporting their top players to European clubs in order to stay financially afloat.
The massive competitive gap that currently exists between rich and poor teams in Europe's leagues would grow even bigger with a quota system – with the supply of players coming in from outside the country lessened, the demand for foreign stars and talented domestic players would rise exponentially, leading to the big clubs to spend more and more money.
Furthermore, imposing a quota on foreign players would breach European Union laws on employment. EU statutes are quite clear on this matter, stating that all workers across countries in the Union shall enjoy freedom of movement.
As much of a stretch it may be to think of players who earn millions of dollars to play a game once or twice a week as "workers," that's exactly what they are.
Blatter claims his proposal will not contradict EU laws, but he's going to have to convince the politicos in Brussels, where the European Union is headquartered, of that before he can implement his plan.
It's a daunting task, one that becomes all the more difficult for Blatter once he realizes, if he hasn't already, that the European Union's motto is "United in diversity."
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