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Feb 26, 2009

The flaws of 6+5

FIFA remain determined to push through their much-heralded 6+5 rule despite conflicting reports surrounding its viability in European law.

With the Institute for European Affairs giving the plan the green light only for the European Commission to say the opposite there appears to be little clarity. But for the Premier League and British football in general there are more questions than answers.

Last year FIFA voted overwhelmingly in favour of the move, which would mean that "at the beginning of each match, each club must field at least six who are players eligible to play for the national team of the country of the club".

There is no restriction on non-nationals on the bench nor on substitutions which could result in 8+3 by full time. FIFA hoped they would get around the European laws by allowing clubs to employ as many non-nationals as they wanted, but only start with five. But the EU stills see this as restrictive.

The rule is intended to protect the interests of the national team while increase competition by preventing teams from fielding a team full of high class foreigners.

There appears to be very little clarification on how a player is deemed eligible. And when you take into account the unique nature of football in the United Kingdom, whereby players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland play essentially as one association, there is a grey area.

Would Simone Perrotta, born just outside Manchester but an experienced Italy international, be deemed as a foreign player should he move to the Premier League? And what of a player such as Alex Bruce, born in Norwich but a recent first cap for Ireland? Does the Ipswich Town player go from being English to non-English when he steps on the pitch for Ireland?

There are scores of English-born players who have played for nations like Trinidad and Jamaica, such as Marlon King and Deon Burton. They are no longer eligible to play for England so does that mean they change status?

Though Sepp Blatter has suggested British will be classed as a nationality for the purposes of the rule - he said this when discussing the number of players in Manchester United's Champions League winning team - there is no certainty. Should the rule only apply to players eligible for a particular country then British football would be ripped apart.

The vast majority of the Welsh national team currently plays in England and while those players should be safe from the chop, young and up-and-coming Welsh players would suddenly find themselves out of favour and ultimately out of a job.

And what of Cardiff City and Swansea City, two Welsh clubs who play in the English leagues? Would they have to concentrate on English players as they play in the English league? If not and they were considered Welsh they would be hit severely by English players being declared alien when they play in the English league?

At present only 35 per cent of Premier League players are eligible for England though the number would increase significantly with all British nationals included.

If the Premier League were to be given the green light to be all-inclusive of British players other associations could then complain it was giving an unfair advantage. Ryan Giggs, for instance, would be a free pick for Manchester United.

And would this really increase competition? Would the top clubs not simply buy the best English players? Within five years the enforced equilibrium would soon be removed as one fact will never change: the big clubs have more money and will pay more money to get the best that's available and the rest are left with, invariably, the scraps.

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