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 Wednesday, October 30, 2002 15:08 EST

Soccer governing bodies would try to control number of foreigners


ZURICH, Switzerland -- FIFA and UEFA have agreed to work together when lobbying the European Union, especially on matters relating to player quotas at European clubs.

"In future we will be consulting each other and talking together to avoid any misunderstandings," said FIFA's director of communications Marcus Siegler.

The announcement came after a recent meeting between world soccer's governing body and its European counterpart and followed newspaper reports that FIFA president Sepp Blatter had proposed a quota of six home players to control the number of foreigners in European teams.

Siegler said the greater level of consultation with UEFA was a step forward for both sides.

"We think alike on this, but we know that it is very difficult to protect young players in the present system," he said.

"We know that it is much cheaper for the clubs to sign foreigners than it is to educate their own young players."

Siegler said it would be difficult for FIFA or UEFA to find a way of changing the system in Europe that permitted free movement of labor and allowed clubs to sign as many non-European players as they like.

Teams such as Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester United or Bayern Munich can pack their teams with players not qualified to play for the national team of their club's country.

At times these clubs have fielded up to an entire team of imported foreign players.

As a result, young home-raised players have suffered restricted opportunities while players willing to move abroad have enjoyed much greater scope.

But the subject of quotas is unlikely to be discussed this week during what is the first round of meetings for FIFA's reconstituted committees since Blatter was re-elected president for a second term on the eve of the World Cup finals.

"They will talk about transfer problems, but they will first discuss unemployed players," said FIFA spokesman Alan Lieblang.

"There was a decision made in mid-September that unemployed players could sign for clubs.

"They will also discuss various problems in different countries, where there are different regulations. They all have their own regulations concerning transfers and this is a problem.

"That (quotas) will not be discussed during this committee meeting, but it could be discussed in the future."

Siegler confirmed the issue of player quotas was not on the agenda. He said the main issues to be considered were a review of refereeing standards at the World Cup finals and the physical condition of the players in Japan and Korea during World Cup 2002.

There was widespread concern during the World Cup that many players, particularly those with European clubs, were exhausted after a packed season and not fit for the demands of the World Cup finals.

However, he did concede the issue of player quotas could be introduced at the last moment in 'other business'.

Siegler added that FIFA shared UEFA's concern at the lack of opportunities given to young players in the current European system and supported the view that there should be an agreed quota for the number of foreign and home players in each team.

But he conceded that there was little either body could do in the current situation.

"We hope we can work together to create some proposals in the future and to lobby in support of them with UEFA," he said.

"We anticipate we may be able to put something forward for consideration in the next round of European legislation in 2003 or 2004."

According to UEFA spokesman Mike Lee, any new proposal would need to put the accent on young home-raised players coached in the club's own academies and not put any stress on nationality.

Lee also said such proposals had received preliminary encouragement from the EU.

He added that proposals suggesting that at least six members of a team had at all times to be eligible for the national team of that country would be unworkable and not worthy of discussion with the EU under the present system.

The suggestion that teams could be restricted to players of certain nationalities was made unworkable by the Bosman ruling in 1995.

But it remained possible a system could be introduced whereby, in UEFA club competitions, six of the 25 players registered in a squad had to be graduates of the club's youth system.

UEFA is currently preparing a licensing system for introduction in 2004-5 that will stipulate required criteria in standards of youth development for all clubs entering European competitions.

While it may not satisfy those like Blatter seeking to reduce dramatically the number of foreigners in each team, it could be a step towards a better balance.

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