It seems strangely fitting that FIFA have met Down Under to vote on a convention that could turn the game of football upside down.
Delegates from the sport's international governing body have met in Sydney and voted in favour of a rule that would limit the number of foreign players a team could field from the kickoff.
The so called “six-plus-five” rule requires that only five foreign players can make the starting XI of any team, ensuring a majority of domestic players in the pitch.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter is aiming to ensure a better balance to leagues throughout the world and open up the opportunity for any team to win their respective championship, not just an elite few.
While his idea seems to have the right motivation behind it, an almighty can of worms is being opened up which could change the face of the game.
It seems surprising that the president of the international governing body of the world’s most popular sport seems keen to restrict the diversity of teams around the globe. The sport is richer than ever because of its globalisation.
Blatter has had a history of controversy throughout his tenure as FIFA president. If you ever wondered who introduced such ridiculous reforms as the silver and golden goal rule, automatic bookings for removing shirts in goal celebrations and the removal of the privilege for the incumbent world champion qualifying automatically for the next World Cup finals tournament; that was our Sepp.
The European Union have already categorically “given the red card” to Blatter’s proposals, as the rule contravenes a directive that protects free movement of workers and guards against discrimination based on nationality.
UEFA have been discussing an idea of a “home grown” quota system, whereby a team must field a certain number of players who have trained for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21 within the country they are playing in.
This would allow foreign nationals to be play so long as they can show they have filled these criteria.
Players such as Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas and Middlesbrough’s Robert Huth would be eligible as “home grown” under these rules, regardless of their Spanish and German roots. The EU has stated that this is a more workable solution.
A quick look at the EPL and the potential effect of the proposed changes is immediately apparent. Of the 20 teams involved in the 2007-08 season, only two clubs (Aston Villa and West Ham) managed an average of six or more Englishmen in their starting lineups.
The “Big Four” of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal had an average of less than three English players, with Arsene Wenger’s men (unsurprisingly) coming out the worst overall with an individual average of less than one.
Across Europe’s major leagues on the last weekend of the season, the EPL and the German Bundesliga were unable to make the quota across the board in comparison to Serie A, La Liga and even the SPL, who made it easily.
To some, it would be an interesting way to level the EPL playing field, and it could mean that as many as 10 or 12 sides are fighting it out for the top spot, instead of the predictable four.
The reason the league is so popular however is because the standard of football is so high. The world’s best players want to play in England’s top flight, and with them comes the revenue that has expanded stadiums, brought more live action to the homes of millions, and ultimately raised the bar for any English talent that wants to succeed.
Although some argue that the standard of international football will improve as more nationals are exposed to top flight football, the standard of the leagues domestically will diminish.
Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini both seemed concerned that two English clubs made the final of this year's Champions League.
Blatter even cited the outcome as a reason why his rule is necessary, saying, "At the end of the Champions League in Europe you have in the quarter-finals four teams of the same association; in the semi-finals three of these teams. Then in the final you are surprised that you have two teams of the same association? We want to bring some remedies, and this is the six-plus-five rule's objective.”
As clubs get richer (especially in the EPL), is making world football a fairer and more equal sport Blatter’s real motivation? In the last few years, international football has been swamped with new countries, meaningless friendlies and World Cup whipping boys. As a result, interest has waned.
Is Blatter attempting to resurrect the love for international competition, which is his responsibility?
Is he also looking to get one over on the nations of the UK, with whom he has battled on the International Football Association Board over the laws of the game that he wishes to change?
The UK nations have four of the eight delegates who sit on this board because of their unique status within the history of the sport, and this has never sat well with the FIFA president.
Although FIFA is the governing body of the sport, it is a governing body, and Sepp Blatter is the president of that body. His motivations will seem to be within the interests of the game, but he is l no more than a politician and politicians have their own agendas.
Whatever the new rules suggest, six-plus-five, eight by three or seven of eleven, the numbers ultimately add up to one.
Unfortunately, he’s in charge.
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