Limiting the number of foreign players in football clubs

The Bosman ruling

The issue of free movement of footballers within the EU first came before the courts in the Bosman case, in which the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that out-of-contract footballers could move between clubs in the EU without a transfer fee being required.

The Bosman case also abolished the existing quota rules which set limits on the number of foreign players which could play for football clubs in European competitions – it was felt by the ECJ that these breached Art 39 of the EC Treaty (free movement of workers).

At that time, UEFA, the European governing body of football, would not allow more than three ‘foreign’ players in squads playing in its competitions (eg, Champions League and UEFA Cup); many EU domestic leagues also placed restrictions on the number of non-nationals allowed on club teams.

The home grown rule

Following the Bosman ruling in 1995, UEFA felt the richest clubs in Europe tended to stockpile (or ‘hoard’) their best players. It also considered that clubs had fewer incentives to train their own players or give a genuine chance to young players from their region since they could poach young players over the age of 16 from across the EU.

To encourage the local training of young players, increase the openness and fairness of European competitions, counter the trend for hoarding players, and to try to re-establish a ‘local’ identity at clubs, UEFA introduced the ‘home grown’ rule. The UEFA rule contains no nationality conditions because, following the Bosman ruling, such conditions are illegal within the EU.

The current UEFA home grown rule states that the 25-man squad submitted by each club playing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League must have at least eight locally-trained or players named in it.

UEFA defines locally-trained or ‘home grown’ players as those who, regardless of their nationality, have been trained by their club or by another club in the same national association for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21. Up to half of the locally-trained players must be from the club itself, with the others being either from the club itself or from other clubs in the same association.
Clubs have no obligation to put a certain number of home grown players on the field of play during matches, or even include them on the match sheet. They are completely free in their team and match day squad selection.

FA Premier League rules

The FA Premier League home grown rules were adopted at the beginning of the 2010/11 season work along the same lines as the UEFA rules.

They state that all 20 Clubs in the English Premier League must include eight home grown players out of a squad of 25 for that Premier League season.

A home grown player is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).

Clubs are allowed to supplement their squads with unlimited additional players under the age of 21 on 1 January in the year in which the season commences.

Changes to the squad list of 25 may be made during the period of a transfer window. So clubs must declare their 25 at the end of August when the window shuts and then again at the end of January.

Could these home grown player rules fall foul of Art 39?

It is unlikely these home grown player quota rules would fall foul of the EU free movement of persons rules as they apply irrespective of nationality and players who originate from other EU member states can be regarded as locally trained in, eg, England if they satisfy the criteria. Indeed, the European Commission confirmed that the UEFA rule was legal in a statement in May 2008.