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The 6+5 Rule Would Radically Alter Football, But Not in a Good Way


FIFA recently approved the “6+5 rule” in a 155-5 vote among member nations.  The rule would mandate that clubs field at least six players from the nation in which they play.  By targeting wealthy clubs, particularly English ones, buying foreign players, FIFA feels they would revive national teams and achieve greater parity.  This policy would do neither.

The rule is unworkable.  It is illegal in Europe.  The European Union forbids employee discrimination among member states.  Contrary to Sepp Blatter’s bleating, the EU is not going to change its laws to accommodate his whims.  Upon implementation, the rule would be challenged immediately by players or clubs under European Law and be overturned.

It would cheapen the quality of the game.  Managers would be forced to base tactics on flags rather than football.  The rule would subsidize and promote inferior players because of their nationality.  Managers with injured English players would have to call up kids from the U-18s rather than experienced foreign professionals to maintain the ratio.  It would entirely alter the way matches are managed, for no tangible benefit.

The rule would exacerbate existing problems rather than solve them.  The reason English clubs buy foreign players is that it is more cost effective.  It makes far more sense to pick up Robin Van Persie for £2.5m than to shell out £17m for Darren Bent to rot on your bench.  English players often get stifled at lower clubs because they are so overvalued (see Gareth Barry or Micah Richards).  The 6-5 rule would only raise the already inflated value of English players, pricing the elite ones out from all but the top teams.

It would also hinder players’ development further by thrusting talented youngsters forward even more quickly.  England’s national team is the only major European side with a slew of flawed players.  Even the elites – Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole – have obvious tactical and technical flaws in their game.  The players are rushed through the system because of their talent and are not coached.  That is the problem that needs to be addressed, not their perceived lack of access to Premier League places (even though ten English players started for Manchester United and Chelsea in the Champions League final).

If there is no direct benefit to the national teams, the assumed intent would be to achieve parity.  However, the backhanded effort does little to create parity.  Inflating the value of national players may even limit cost-effective alternatives and widen the gap further.

A far more sensible policy for promoting the domestic game would be the implementation of UEFA’s homegrown player rules.  It encourages clubs to invest in their youth system and player development without foisting unwieldy tactics upon managers or breaking EU laws.

A better way to police big clubs would be to directly address them by imposing spending caps, a salary crap, or some form of revenue sharing/luxury tax in domestic leagues.

Trying to accomplish both in a slapdash, ill-considered way to achieve demagogic popularity is doomed to failure.

Also just for speculation, would Cardiff have to field six English players or six Welsh players?

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  1. John

    May 31, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    I don’t have a problem with setting some kind of a limit on the number of foreign players, but it should be based on the roster, not the starting lineup. What do you do if one of your six English players gets injured and you don’t have another Englishman available at that position? What they should just do is rule that over 50% of roster spots go to players of that nationality. There’d be more English players in the EPL than now, but managers wouldn’t be forced to play them if they aren’t good enough.

  2. jonathan

    November 2, 2009 at 12:56 am

    well if club football is about showcasing the talent of the local area then be prepared for a serious decline in european football. How about you force all these rich european clubs to give financial aid to their south american and african counterparts since God knows they too would want to find glory at their local clubs. Its terrible already to see that european players of equal or lesser skill make one thousand times the profit of some foreign players

  3. Shane Roach

    August 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    My opinion on this matter stems from what makes an employee?

    Can any of your bosses sell you to a competing business at a profit? This not being the case it is unfair to classify these professional football players as employees of the clubs, they are assets in the truest sense of the word and as such the employment rules of the EU should not apply.

    I see nothing wrong with the 6+5 rule as a club from a country, better yet a particular area should be aiming to show case the players and potential of players from that area at least not ruling out those of the country.

  4. JP

    June 16, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    It seems that INEA has declared to the EU Parliament that 6+5 does NOT violate EU law & is thus not illegal as the author would have you believe. 6+5 is coming, like it or not. Why the hell else would ‘Pool drop 18m on Glen Johnson? LOL

  5. Herbie

    April 26, 2009 at 11:35 am

    If you’re good enough you’ll play – that is what it should be – regardless of where you are from.

    Doesn’t the eligibility thing make no sense as Toure can get a British passport soon, Almunia likewise and a lot of Arsenal’s young players have been here for years regardless of where they were born – all of whom would be ‘eligible’ for the national team by passport but not by birth.

    Bentley wasn’t good enough for Arsenal and isn’t even good enough for Spurs – why should the rule be that he has more chance of starting over a better player such as Arshavin or Nasri because of where he was born.

    There are very few English players good enough for the top 4 teams – it seems like this is the fault of the FA, government, schools and grass roots football rather than clubs who try to bring players through such as Hoyte who wans;t good enough for Arsenal and was only on the bench for ‘boro.

    The best teams across the continent will buy the best players from their respective countries – this has always been the case.

    I think the ‘homegrown’ rule is much more workable and much more positive.

    Blatter is just anti- England and Premier League dominance – not helped by Platini’s blatent petulence and hate for the English.

  6. Jomar

    April 10, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    What a load of rubbish. Does anyone remember that only 15 years ago European clubs could only have three foreign players. It meant that they were forced to develop and purchase the best players from their own countries to fill the teams. The quality was just as good as today – just not as televised.
    When a young player from Manchester who dreams of one day playing for Man U with all his heart and soul has no chance of ever achieving that goal surely something is wrong with the system. Judging by this article – nationality should not come into play – so why are teams classified by their country of origin?

    • Nick

      February 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm

      if the player was good enough he would play.

  7. Rory

    March 7, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    It will make developing national talent first priority instead of 2nd, and there’s no discrimination simply because it will be a sporting rule that every other national league will have to abide too.
    I think it’s a great idea as it will increase the interest and quantity in quality in other leagues..especially the smaller nations, and teams in south america that continually get raped for peanut’s.
    And if it benefit’s the majority that way, then whats the problem?

  8. imkis32

    March 2, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Was this written by a 5 year old?

    The entire argument is based on a “wishful thinking” fallacy.

    You make a lot of claims, but never support them convincingly. English 101.

  9. Richard

    June 12, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    It’s a ridiculous rule. The reason why the premier league is the best league in the world is because of the number of foreign players.
    And England aren’t doing poorly now because we don’t have enough English players in the league, that’s completely irrelevant. If they were good enough, they would get in the teams.

    Fifa are idiots.

  10. Michael D

    June 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    This is the best, clearest, and intelligent argument against this rule I have heard yet. Quality.

  11. Anonymous

    June 1, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    How is this not just a further refinement of the current immigration rule that a foreign national play in 75% of their country’s matches, as a mechanism for regulating who a team can acquire? While this is a rule in the UK, and I’m unsure if there is something similar across Europe. But all it does is limit the maximum number of international players available to the top European leagues, to the benefit of other European teams that can’t afford to keep the players they develop. This seems like it would provide stability to teams that are largely becoming feeders to the largest clubs in Europe. But I certainly see the downside to those clubs accustomed to buying players from the world over; I’m just not that concerned with it.

  12. Shakira Graham

    June 1, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I personally think its a good idea, you can have as many foreign players on your squad as you want, as long as thier are a number of that countries players as well. Perhaps 6 is a bit too much but I see nothing wrong with this system You look at teams like Arseanl who are English in name in and Stadium only. If England can’t produce enough players then its simple change your academy and youth systems taht arent working plain and simple. I know I’ll probally be slated but good for FIFA…for once.

  13. Michael

    May 31, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Agreed about the salary cap, Dan.

  14. Dan

    May 31, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    This is stupid players want to go where the money is just like you and I want to go where the money is. Its unfair to tell players what to do. If they feel more comfortable at home and don’t care about the money then they can can make that choice. Don’t force them to.

    A salary cap of sorts would be the most logical way to create parity and teams with more money could pour it into developing youth and facilities.

  15. Michael

    May 31, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    When I go back and further and read what you wrote more closely, Betsy, I see your point, but I think you’re feeding right into Ty’s argument. It’s employment, no matter what you say, and there are labor laws preventing discrimination of any kind. If someone has the credentials to play soccer for a club and that club wants them, it shouldn’t matter what country the player hails from. That DOES have to do with EU law..

  16. Michael

    May 31, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Betsy, you’re completely wrong..

    The act of signing a contract for money for service in return constitutes employment. The minute a player puts his name on the dotted line for x number of years for x amount of money, he becomes their employee. Just because it isn’t a traditional desk job means nothing; soccer players are professional employees to whatever club is paying their wages.

  17. betsy's bolton bum baster

    May 31, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    they are paid to train with the club. they are not paid to play. coaches decide who plays and who doesn’t.

    for example hilario, a reserve goalkeeper at chelsea, is employed by chelsea. but he never plays. playing has nothing to do with employment.

  18. tyduffy

    May 31, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    And since the government is taxing them for their efforts, one doubts that they are in a hurry to reclassify it.

  19. tyduffy

    May 31, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Football players perform a task and are paid a salary for said task. How is that NOT employment?

  20. betsy's bolton bum baster

    May 31, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    that’s another thing wrong with the british system. freaking put your egos aside and consolidate the damn FA into a UKFA and UK national team and most of the issues surrounding the problems in that nations football will be solves.

  21. betsy's bolton bum baster

    May 31, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    i don’t think it is discrimination. playing for a football club does not constitute employment. a player can still be on the bench and not play, playing on the actual pitch in an actual game has absolutely nothing to do with EU law. it is strictly a footballing matter.

    the rule does not completely ban foreigners from playing. it will be the rule in EVERY country so how is that discrimination?

    i do not think it will cheapen the quality of the game. simply there will be much more competitiveness from countries that continually produce talent but happen to lose it due to poor pay, etc. such as france.

    a country such as england would undoubtedly suffer….so i would suggest they do as the germans did and try to reinvent their style of football as well as change the youth development system.

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