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By ESPN Staff

Blatter to ignore EU over foreign player quotas

BRUSSELS, April 17 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter aims to bypass the European Union and UEFA next month over plans to curb foreign players at soccer clubs, which could lead to a spate of costly court cases, FIFA officials said.

UEFA has so far dismissed Blatter's proposal to restrict teams to five foreign nationals on the pitch on the grounds that it conflicts with EU laws on the free movement of workers, potentially leading to widespread legal actions.

Despite UEFA's stance and EU opposition, the world game's top official will seek a 'gentleman's agreement' on the matter among the national associations, including those in Europe, at FIFA's annual congress in Sydney next month, bypassing Europe's governing body, the officials said.

UEFA favours reaching a deal with the EU's executive Commission on its home-grown player rule which sets a quota of locally trained players at clubs but without any discrimination on nationality.

FIFA says that does not go far enough and allows too much exploitation of young players by clubs.

To change the rules, Blatter needs 75 percent support at the congress where each of FIFA's 208 member associations who are eligible to vote have one vote each and UEFA as an organisation has none.

Tensions have risen between the two power brokers after UEFA president Michel Platini refused to accompany Blatter on a trip to Brussels last week to convince the EU institutions of the merits of his plan, prompting the FIFA chief to cancel.

A spokesman for Blatter blamed 'circumstances beyond our control' for the u-turn, but EU, FIFA and UEFA sources told Reuters that Brussels officials and some lawmakers did not wish to engage with Blatter on the issue, notably in the absence of Platini.

'As far as the EU is concerned, Blatter is flogging a dead horse and any discussion would have been pointless,' one EU official familiar with the situation said.

FIFA and UEFA sources said Platini advised Blatter in a letter not to travel to the EU capital as it could harm UEFA's positive relationship with Brussels, sparking an angry response from Blatter who warned Platini that failure to back him could have major consequences for their relationship in the future.

'He (Blatter) doesn't want a war with UEFA or to anger the EU, but this is a point of principle for him,' one FIFA official said.

'When he became president he made a promise on this and he sees this as a major legacy of his time in office. He believes he can get a gentleman's agreement with all the national associations.'

EU and UEFA officials warned that such a deal could prompt multi-million court cases challenging the rule and eventually end up before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In a similar case on the free movement of players across the 27-member bloc in 1995, the ECJ ruled against football's authorities. The judgement, known as the 'Bosman ruling', proved damning for the sport and changed the face of the game forever.

'Firstly you must be confident you are dealing with gentlemen that will stick to the deal. But in this day and age that is highly unlikely,' a senior UEFA source said.