The Lisbon Treaty and the 6+5 Rule Combine to Change Football

Mr XSenior Writer IOctober 24, 2009

TOKYO - DECEMBER 20:  FIFA President Joseph Blatter attends the FIFA Executive Committee Press Conference at Westin Hotel Tokyo on December 20, 2008 in Tokyo.  (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

This week, Sepp Blatter met with the European Parliament Vice-President, Pál Schmitt, to discuss the imminent ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and how it will impact on the footballing world as FIFA begin to implement their 6+5 rule.

Under current EU law the 6+5 rule would not work, but if and when as expected the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, Article 165 would leave the door open for FIFA to bring their new rule into force, albeit with EU permission.

Such is FIFA's endeavour to bring the rule into force that Parliament Vice-President Schmitt has been officially cast as FIFA's "6+5 Ambassador" to the EU regarding all sports, not just football.

The Lisbon Treaty in itself is an updated version of the Maastricht Treaty which came into force in 1992. Since then the EU has grown in size from 12 countries to 27.

Under the new Treaty, the EU Parliament, made of MEP's from every country, would vote on certain topics and not consult the home countries, thus making the EU more efficient.

There are numerous sections to the Treaty, as you would expect of any volume of work concerning the rights of 27 countries and almost 500 million people. But the section that will concern most football fans is Article 165 concerning sport.

Article 165 pertains to Education, Vocational Training, Youth, and Sport, and is aimed at EU Member States taking responsibility for young people's development, both indigenous and migrant.

Section 2 of the Article calls upon the Member States to begin "developing the European dimension in sport, by promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions and cooperation between bodies responsible for sports, and by protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, especially the youngest sportsmen and sportswomen."

In short Member States will be called upon to treat foreign and domestic sportsmen and women as equals. This seems to be a common sense approach by the EU and there is nothing sinister in this section of the Treaty.

And it seems to open the door for FIFA to implement the 6+5 Rule.

The definition of the 6+5 rule is as follows. At the beginning of each match, each club must field at least 6 players eligible to play for the national team of the country of the club.

However, there is no restriction on the number of non-eligible players under contract with the club, nor on substitutes to avoid non-sportive constraints on the coaches (potentially 3+8 at the end of a match).

For a long time it was felt that the 6+5 Rule was incompatible with EU Law, but as mentioned before FIFA have recently met with European Parliament Vice-President, Pál Schmitt to discuss the Lisbon Treaty's impact on FIFA's proposal.

When questioned on the 6+5 Rules compatibility with EU Law, Blatter had this to say.

"Contrary to what may have been said, the '6+5' rule does not contravene the European Labour Law on the freedom of movement. Clubs will still be free to take on as many foreign players as they want.

"When a match kicks off however, they will have to have six players on the pitch who are eligible for the national team of the country in question."

Under current FIFA rules, a player can live in a foreign country for only two years before he can claim that nationality. The 6+5 rule will seek to change this and move the limit to five years to stop the misuse of the loophole in the previous ruling.

Currently many South Americans and Africans are being nationalised by a whole host of countries across the world. FIFA are trying to stem this flow of talent by the introduction of the new ruling.

UEFA are also currently looking at the possibility of banning transfers of players aged 17 and under, if this moved through it would most definitely mean that domestic talent would become the order of the day in every league throughout the world.

The figures from the five main European championships (Germany, England, Spain, France and Italy) are not that far away from '6+5'. 43 percent of squads are made up of players who are not eligible, while England and Germany are the only ones who are above the 50 percent mark.

Currently, Liverpool are perhaps the worst example of a club who do not promote domestic talent in England. Of the 27 players in the reserve squad, 19 of those are foreign. The number improves significantly concerning the Academy team, where only nine from 29 players are foreign.

Of the 40 players in the first-team squad, only 10 are English and this is a trend that is becoming more apparent in the modern game throughout Europe but almost specifically amongst teams who are ever present in the Champions League.

The pursuit of glory brings with it extravagant wage bills which must be serviced if the club wishes to remain successful.

To stay at the top the club, then, comes under increasing pressure to buy big and with a small domestic pool being trawled by many local rival clubs, foreign players are snapped up.

The only other option on the table at the moment is UEFA's 4+4 proposal. However, it does not protect domestic talent in the same way as the 6+5 rule. It leaves the door open for teams to exploit a loop-hole and sign even younger talent the world over.

The '6+5' rule will redress the balance in sporting terms as players from South America and Africa will be less likely to be taken to Europe where the richest clubs in world football reside.

As these continents are the suppliers for the big European clubs, they are suffering from the mass exodus of their players.

Of course, rich clubs will still be able to sign the most expensive talent, but should the 6+5 be implemented, it would happen on a smaller scale. And in a roundabout way, it could even bring about the rationalisation of wages, which seem to be spiraling out of control.

At the conference,  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter made the following suggestions: the number "6" (which corresponds to the minimum number of players that a club must select at the start of a match in a club competition who must be eligible to play for the national team of the association in which the club plays) would include players, "irrespective of their nationality," who have been registered for clubs belonging to the association in which the club plays on a continuous basis since the age of 12 or earlier.

It would also include players, irrespective of their nationality, who have played professional football for clubs belonging to the association in which the club plays on a continuous basis for five years since the age of 18.

The most worrying part of the 6+5 rule is the "irrespective of nationality" section, especially it's reference to players under the age of 12.

The current schoolboy system allows foreign players to represent the national country their school resides in. Think Ryan Giggs playing for England schoolboys when he is of Welsh nationality.

The pressures young players are under will always be great, but it will intensify under the 6+5 rule as the avenue to bring in foreign talent will be almost closed.

Hence young foreign players could come under pressure to declare for their country of residence. As FIFA competition does not start until U-17 it would leave the door open for nationalisation of youth players before they get the chance to pull on the jersey of their original nationality.

On paper, the 6+5 rule certainly equalizes the sport, especially in terms of large rich clubs plundering foreign talent. However as one goal-post is moved, clubs will invariably strive to find another way around the rule as their responsibility is to their own bottom line rather than their country's footballing hopes.

After the conference between the EU and FIFA concerning the 6+5 rule, Per Schmitt had this to say.

"I look forward to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which represents historic recognition for sport and its specific nature and autonomy.

"It is my personal conviction that sport is part of national identity and culture, and the '6+5' rule is a symbol for all team sports and gives an opportunity to young talents to take part in the highest level of competition.

"I expect that besides football, other team sports will also support this initiative since local stars in the line-up make sport more popular and attractive, therefore it draws young people back to the grounds."

In reply, a happy Sepp Blatter said, "I'm particularly pleased that such a high-level and diversified group of participants at the conference called for a recognition of the specificity and the autonomy of sport.

"We are not alone in sharing these views, which speak for themselves. The '6+5' rule which FIFA defends is nothing but a fair rule to maintain the integrity, the balance and the uncertainty of competitions. These values are crucial to football."

Integrity and the uncertainty of competition are indeed crucial to football, but as history shows, FIFA have not always been true and good, and all to often they have pandered to the whims of the elite, especially the largest most powerful nations.

The future of the game is in the hands of Blatter and FIFA...

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