The 6-5 Principle.

FIFA have chosen to oppose the European Union, but to take a populist stance with the 6+5 formula that would provide minimum quotas for Englishmen in the English Leagues, but will this really improve the England team, or may it make us look better, by making the opposition worse?

The FIFA statement makes it look like a great step forward, with the resolution voted for by an overwhelming 155 to 5 of delegates at the FIFA congress. However, the proposal had already been neutered by UEFA’s insistence that the wording was just one of negotiation. The resolution requests that “the Presidents of FIFA and UEFA to continue to explore … all possible means within the limits of the law to ensure that these crucial sporting objectives be achieved”. Anyway with 201 associations at the Congress, (seven did not turn up), 41 must have abstained. The voting record – exactly who voted against, or just abstained would have been interesting.

English football is very much in the mind of the people who are promoting the plan, Franz Beckenbauer said that “Everyone regrets that England will not take part in Euro 2008”, while Blatter said “This is a subject close to my heart. I want to protect the national teams and prevent leagues having only a small number of clubs with any chance of winning the title”. To be honest, it is an idea that has a general popularity with fans as well. Reading comments sent in to the BBC’s web site, the majority are in favour of rules to increase the number of Englishmen on view in the Premiership. Statistics (also provided by the BBC) point out the degree of the problem – just over one in three of all players who appeared in the Premiership are actually English, while on average, only 72 of the 220 starters on any given Saturday are English. To look at this from the other direction, 41 of the 368 registered players for Euro 2008 play in England, only Germany (58) and Spain (42) have more, and they of course are both in the finals.

The 6+5 plan means that in any domestic league match, a minimum of 6 of the players that start the game must be qualified to play for the country in which the club is domiciled, (i.e English, for clubs in the English League, except Cardiff and Swansea which are domiciled in Wales, and so would have to field 6 Welshmen). Ideally FIFA would phase this in with a minimum of 4 qualified players in 2010-11, and 5 the season after. Now, naturally this would not create much of a stir outside Europe as most national leagues already run with more stringent regulations in place. The only exception that immediately comes to my mind is the S-League in Singapore. While most teams are limited in the number of foreigners they field, they have three clubs that are associated to other countries, and none of these play any Singaporeans at all, but have squads that are 100% Japanese (Albirex Niigata), Korean (Korean Super Reds) or Chinese (Dalian).

Within the European Union, though, the situation is clear. Any player who is a citizen of the EU has a right to sign for and play for any club within the Union. Also a rule that discriminates the choice of one citizen over another is not permitted. Naturally there is nothing to prevent a rule being placed that at least 6 players in the starting line-up are EU citizens.

There is another string to the European Argument. There are clearly around five leagues within Europe that have a big financial advantage over all the others; these leagues provide most of the finalists for European club competitions. An international player who wants to prove himself among the best wants to play in one of these five leagues. Indeed the lack of good competitive play in his home league means that the player practically has to leave his home country in order to gain the experience required. On the way to Euro 2008, England were beaten by Croatia – only one out of their squad of 23 plays in the Croatian League, while three play in England.

Apart from England, concern over the number of nationals in their own league expands to Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands – but despite the money on offer, the situation is nowhere near so acute in either Italy or Spain. So is the problem for the English Leagues really due to the foreigners coming in, or is it due to the lack of Englishmen coming through the training regimes? The quota system suggested by FIFA may well help England do better against the likes of Croatia – but this may not mean the English team is any better – only that we restrict the chances for the Croats, and make their team worse.