Limiting the number of foreign players in football clubs

Can the football authorities limit the amount of foreign players playing for specific clubs in specific football competitions?

Bosman and the Free Movement of Workers

The first time the issue of the free movement of footballers within the European Union was thrust into the courts was during the Bosman case. Following the decision of the European Court of Justice in this case out of contract footballers are able to move between clubs in the European Union without the requirement of a transfer fee being paid.

Abolition of Quotas

Another issue to learn from the Bosman case was that it abolished quota rules regarding the number of foreign players playing for football clubs in European competition that were currently in existence – it was felt that these were in direct conflict of the free movement of workers – Article 39 of the EC Treaty.

Football not free from European Law Challenge

One of the key things to note from the Bosman case is that the football authorities are not exempt from European Law challenge when the fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by the European Union are compromised.

Would a limit on the amount of foreign players able to play for a club constitute an infringement of Article 39?

If for example the Premier League was to state that clubs could only play matches with a specific number of players from outside that country in the team this would fall foul of Article 39 as it is a direct infringement as seen in the Bosman case.

It is with some surprise however to learn that the European Governing Body of football – UEFA already has rules in existence ensuring that clubs must have a certain quota of home grown players. Furthermore the Football Association Premier League will be adopting similar rules for the start of the 2010/11 season.

What are the current UEFA Rules?

The current UEFA rules state that the 25 man squad submitted by each club playing in the UEFA Champions League must have at least 8 locally trained players named in it.

What is meant by a locally trained player?

A locally trained player can either be club trained or association trained for the purposes of the UEFA rule.

What is the difference between a club trained player or an association trained player?

In order for a player to be viewed as a locally trained player he must have been trained in that country for a specific time period between a certain age. A player could either have been trained at one specific club and he will then be regarded as a club trained player. If the player has been trained at different clubs in that country during that time period then he will be regarded as an association trained player as the two clubs will be affiliated to the same association.

At what age and for how long must a player be trained to be considered a locally trained player?

The player must have been registered at that club or different clubs affiliated to the same association for a period of three full football seasons, or 36 months between the age of 15 and 21.

Does this apply regardless of nationality?

This rule applies regardless of the nationality of the player meaning that young players who move to a different country between the ages of 15 and 21 and who have played for three full seasons in that country will be regarded as locally trained in that country.

What are the rules which will be adopted by the FA Premier League?

The FA Premier League rules which are to be adopted at the beginning of the 2010/11 season will work along the same lines as the UEFA rules. Therefore home grown players for FA Premier League purposes will be players who have been registered with either the English or Welsh Football Associations for a period of 36 months prior to their 21st birthday.

Are these home grown player rules likely to fall foul of Article 39 of the EC Treaty?

It is unlikely that these home grown player quota rules would fall foul of the fundamental freedom of the free movement of persons as the rules apply irrespective of nationality as players who originate from other European Union Member States can be regarded as locally trained in England. The reasoning for the rule is to encourage the development of young talent through the academy system and to try and alleviate clubs simply spending vast sums of money on expensive foreign talent. The basis of the rule is purely football and does not seek to restrict the players plying their trade in one Member State due to their nationality. It is therefore very unlikely that a successful challenge on this rule could be brought under European law.

Is there likely to be any future laws in relation to the amount of foreign players in football teams?

The world governing body of football – FIFA – has mooted potential ideas for a quota based system with one of the main proposals for reducing the foreign players in national football leagues is to introduce a true quota system. Under this system in each match a team must field at least 6 players from that country.

Would this be a desirable position for football clubs?

Football clubs would not wish this proposal to become a reality as it would lessen the clubs ability to but the best foreign players. The existing quota systems already protect the development of young talent and so the clubs would feel that this would be an unnecessary step. Furthermore the actual league may feel that their product is diminished if the best players are unable to play in the league.

Would this proposal be open to legal challenge?

The key aspect to note regarding this proposal is that it would constitute discrimination on the grounds on nationality whereas the existing system does not discriminate on grounds of nationality. If this system were put in place it is therefore extremely unlikely that it would not fall foul of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the EC Treaty through Article 39.