This week, the 58th FIFA Congress is taking place in Sydney, presided over by Mr. FIFA President Sepp Blatter. As part of the agenda, the delegates have approved the 6+5 rule, which would allow any team to field only five foreign players on the pitch at one time. This rule is to be implemented by 2012 all around the world.
However, the European Union has declared such a rule illegal. Also, despite the best efforts of the FIFA delegation to show that the 6+5 rule is necessary, my research has yielded only inconclusive proof for the need of such a rule, based on comparisons of several European leagues and cup competitions.
European Cup finals
Here are the lineups Manchester United and Chelsea fielded in Moscow (foreigners noted with an asterisk):
Manchester United — Edwin van der Sar*, Patrice Evra*, Owen Hargreaves, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Cristiano Ronaldo*, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic*, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Carlos Tevez* (6+5).
Chelsea — Petr Cech*, Ashley Cole, Claude Makelele*, Michael Essien*, Ricardo Carvalho*, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Didier Drogba*, Michael Ballack*, Florent Malouda*, John Terry (4+7).
In the UEFA Cup Final, Zenit Saint Petersburg sent out a team made up of seven homegrown players and four foreigners. Rangers had exactly a six plus five lineup.
So, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Manchester United, and Rangers already followed the rule, without being required to do so, and without any influence from outsiders. In both Cups, the team with more homegrown players went on to win. This seems to point to the idea that the 6+5 rule is not necessary. But read on…
Looking outside the Premiership (seems nobody ever does this anymore), there are plenty of other European leagues that can be influenced by this ruling. Namely the Scottish Premier League, where Old Firm rivals Celtic and the aforementioned Rangers have had a stranglehold on the league for a very long time.
In the last Old Firm derby of the season, Celtic broke the rule by two players (7+4), while Rangers followed it exactly (6+5). In this match, Daniel Cousins of Rangers was the only foreigner to score, and the influential red card was shown to a Scotsman, Rangers’ Steven Whittaker.
Keep in mind that, while Celtic won the league, Rangers had what most people will call a more successful season, finishing as runners-up (which qualifies them for the Champions League), as well as winning the Scottish Cup and reaching the UEFA Cup Final.
The top four teams in the Serie A this season were Inter Milan, Roma, Juventus, and Fiorentina, in that order. The Italian title resembled the Premiership crown race, with the top two pulling away, the next two places relatively secured, leaving the rest to chase.
Looking at lineups from several matches, as well as complete squad lists, Inter Milan benefits the most from foreign influx, while Roma, Juventus, and Fiorentina rely heavily on homegrown producers. Specifically, in the last Roma v Juventus match of the season on the 23rd of April, which ended in a 2-2 draw, Roma put out a team in 6+5, while Juventus fielded a team of even more Italians, in a 7+4.
The league table, just like the one in England, supports the argument in favor of the new rule, but the fact that three of the top four clubs (although not the champions) normally play with more Italians than foreigners cannot be ignored. Also, in the Coppa Italia final (Italy’s FA Cup), Roma defeated a foreigner-laden Inter Milan squad.
It is natural that the best players will gravitate towards the same club, due to monetary influence and the desire to put oneself in the best possible situation for success. Therefore, the best homegrown stars will bond with the best foreign players to achieve their common goal of success, at any club that can afford them. Juventus and Manchester United are perfect examples of this. Both are clubs with great histories and great legacies within their own country, and thus an ability to attract local talent, and internationally, bringing an ability to attract foreign talent, not to mention a well-funded transfer kitty.
In football competition, results and statistics do not lie when looked at objectively. In the research I have presented here, teams with more foreign starters have excelled in domestic leagues (Celtic and Inter Milan), but not necessarily in others (Man United and Chelsea). In European Cups, it appears that, this season, the competitions have proven a 6+5 rule to be unnecessary, with the two winning teams in UEFA’s premier cups fielding more homegrown stars than foreigners. The domestic cup winners I mentioned (Rangers and Roma) upheld the trend.
However, Inter Milan’s record, as well as those of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain cannot be ignored. Their use of foreigners is not a secret or a surprise. Therefore, it cannot be stated that the rule is definitely useless.
The general trend is that the clubs with the most money can attract the best players, foreign or otherwise. Therefore, perhaps a better solution would be to instill a kind of salary cap, with only a given amount of players on the same team being allowed to make a certain amount of money in wages.
However, this is really a matter of opinion. Everybody’s opinion is valid in this argument, and I believe there is no right or wrong answer, at least based on statistics and general trends across European football, where there is the most controversy over the 6+5 idea.
Please leave a comment and let Soccerlens readers know your opinion on the matter. I’ll start: I am against the 6+5 rule because it adds too much regulation and complication to the game. In my opinion, a salary cap like the one I mentioned would be a better solution to evening out domestic league tables.