Sometimes, the question of whether FIFA has any morals or not is so cloudy that the casual reader can scarcely see the hand in front of their face. It is aloready fairly clear that FIFA’s ultimate aim in the current climate is self-preservation. Sepp Blatter will continue to attack the big clubs in whatever way he can (even if it also to the detriment of smaller clubs), as demonstrated by his thinly-veiled and peculiar attack on them last when describing the current transfer system as a form of “slavery”. He has been widely – and rightly – ridiculed for this, as he was for this intimation that women’s football would be more popular if the players wore tighter shirts, but sometimes one merely feels that he is being misguided in his pronouncements rather than downright wrong.
His latest crazy scheme is to introduce a “6+5” rule, which forces clubs to play at least six players that are eligible for the country in which they are playing in every match. Although it seem, on the suface, to be a sound enough idea (particularly here in England, where the current manner in which players comes through means that Fabio Capello has got a total pool of English players that most international managers would look at and laugh, with no youngsters coming through), there is an element of self-preservation about it again. Club football is starting to rule the roost on a global scale. Supporters in many countries (including – but not limited to – England) are starting to turn away from the national team to support the national teams of the players that represent their clubs, and the decline in interest in the World Cup and the European Championships would mean a real and significant loss of money and power for the game’s authorities.
It remains, however, a seductive plan, and would have the added benefit of forcing the biggest clubs to spend money and time on developing young players. There is one small problem with it – it’s almost certainly illegal. This article, written by a specialist in employment law, suggests why. For countries within the European Union, laws already in place to promote the free movement of labour across the Union would see to it that any FIFA rules relating to the nationalities of players would be thrown out by the first court that came across them. FIFA think that they have done enough to circumvent these laws through their wording – they refer to “home grow” players rather than “foreign”, and are also heavily reliant upon a prevous EU ruling that football has a special status within employment law, but it would still seem that this will be a step too far for a European court to be able to accept.
Ultimately, we all know that there is a damaging imbalance of power within club football – ironically at a time when international football is looking more open than ever. However, seeking to circumvent European employment laws is not the way to address this issue. What the game’s authoritries need to do is redress the imbalance of money going to bigger clubs. The FA threw away the chance to do this when it voluntarily ceded control of the top level of club football to the clubs in 1992, and UEFA, whilst making the right noises in changing the format of the UEFA Cup and awarding the 2012 European Championships to Poland and Ukraine, still haven’t addressed the fundamental problem that the biggest clubs keep an overwhleming proportion of the revenue generated by its biggest cash cow, the Champions League. Whether they will have the nerve to address these issues is a different matter altogether.