Let me just nail my colours to the mast, I’m an Arsenal fan who is for the 6+5 rule, a paradox I hear you cackle. I’m a football purist and I believe that the essence of club football is that clubs are agents of the communities they take the name of, and that they should represent these communities to the fullest.
As an Arsenal fan, I and many of my Gooner mates love the likes of Fabregas and van Persie to bits, but if either of them were a Londoner and to a slightly lesser extent English, there is no doubt in my mind we would love them a billion times more. Just look at the love for Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. I am in no doubt this would be the same for fans up and down the country, and across the globe. For me it is all down to identification, and that is what the modern fan is losing. Clubs aren’t representative of them anymore and are more akin to American franchises, stock piled full of the best “here-today-gone-tomorrow” talent.
This is all why I hope that the 6+5 rule allied to the locally trained players rule goes through. Imagine every team with 5 world class foreigners, allied with 6 local lads battling for the cause. Obviously a slightly exaggerated, romantic and unlikely example, but you get the gist.
Seeing it from both angles
OK, let’s get down to business. I can understand both sides of the argument as to why the rule may or may not be illegal and contravene employment laws. It is after all in theory discrimination based upon nationality and restriction to trade. The arguments which claim that it isn’t, state that there is no restriction on how many non nationals a club can employ, which is total fact. However, there would be psychological restrictions, as clubs wouldn’t sign loads of foreign players if they had no intention of playing them. Thus, I can see it being a legal minefield that I’d rather stay away from.
What I think is needed though is for those who create law to take a step back and realise that football and sport in general is a special case, and that a free market isn’t always the best way of providing the most effective and fair level of competition. Similar to what the world is now seeing with the collapse of the overly free banking industry. There are some simple (non legally based) arguments against the rule and hopefully I can put them to bed by giving my opinion.
Quality over Quantity
Firstly, I have read on forums and in articles people claiming it would hinder non European football, I ask how so? The best non European players would still gravitate to the best leagues, which of course are European. The difference would be that the average foreign players wouldn’t, which for me isn’t a problem. Currently within England if a club has a choice between two equally skilled players one English, and one not, they are likely to choose the foreign player. For the simple reason that the initial transfer outlay is likely to be far cheaper for the foreign player than for that of the English player. Some would even argue that foreign players’ level of professionalism is likely to be far greater in general. With these advantages to signing foreign players removed, the disadvantage to average nationals would also be removed, as an average English player doesn’t choose to be valued above his market price. You could then say it is unfair to the average African player (for example) as he will no longer be able to get to the top, however the same can be levelled at any profession, the cream rises, the average stay where they are.
Cultivating young talent
Moving on, the one hope is this will force clubs to concentrate on developing their own local young talent. (This would be instead, of the current practice of aggressively stealing young kids from smaller clubs and promising them the world (Personal rant)). This is because as we know if the pool of available talent is decreased, the prices for them would increase. Simple demand and supply theory, and part of the reason why clubs currently go foreign rather than native. To counter this clubs would look for cheaper alternatives to bring English players through and that would mean concentrating on developing their own talent from a young age, and hopefully instilling in them the values of professionalism!!
The “Nationality” debate
This leads me onto my key question. Who exactly qualifies for who? This is obviously the paradox of the UK, however as FIFA has stated that it would be a special case, the situation is slightly clearer. This is because as is the case now, anyone who holds a British passport is eligible to represent any nation, think Maik Taylor and his representation of Northern Ireland. Thus Cardiff City wouldn’t be penalised for naming 11 Englishmen, and Ryan Giggs would be eligible for Manchester United. The way I hope “nationality” will be defined is that eligibility won’t be on a legal nationality basis but be on the basis of who you are eligible to play international football for. For example, Javier Zanetti who has Italian citizenship despite being Argentine, would be recognized as argentine as he represents their national team. However Mauro Camoranesi, who has the same dual nationality situation, would be recognized as Italian, as he represents the Italian national team. I personal think this is the clearest way of doing things. The only fear is that it could mean players would give up the privilege of playing for their national team so that they can be eligible for a foreign country, although the benefits of doing so would still be weighted against you as you’d still be restricted to being a national of only the country you chose to represent.
I have seen people say, that this rule is not football, when in fact this rule is football to the core. The Italian league had a foreign ban for 13 years after the 1966 world cup. Spanish football also had a similar ban during this period. And until it was legally outlawed in the 1990s UEFA had an 8+3 rule. The fact of the matter is the game (on the pitch at least) during these eras was considered more romantic and more in touch with the fan on the street and that is what it needs to go back to. When I say more romantic I mean, that International Football could be returned to the plateau above that of club football, and the exoticness we used to affirm with the clash of different styles (which in a way represented our different cultures), such as the Defensive Italian team, the technical Spanish, the flair filled French and the organised Germans could be returned to a point.
Of course if club sides took the identity of their nation, with a few exotic imports thrown in, it could be argued that the strength of the smaller European leagues would be increased, and movement between them and the bigger leagues would be decreased. The best Dutch players would still likely gravitate to the biggest Dutch clubs and then onto the biggest European clubs, but difference would be that only the very best would leave. Meaning that the good would stay where they are and the relative strength of the league would be improved. That is all theory of course. There is no real way of defining who is good enough to go abroad or when a player is mature enough, personally I like the way Platini is leaning on the rule that you have to be over 18 to go aboard, I would increase that to 21. I would also make it so you have to have been full capped by your national team, or have at least 3 non full caps. That will ensure that we aren’t still trafficking dross across Europe, and once again would help put the importance back at the feet of international football. Of course the last two points are just me thinking out loud, but they are food for thought at least.
Why do you support your club?
The last point I want to address is that of quality of football, and I do this by asking the question, why do you support your team? People have all sorts of answers to this from “me dad supported them” to “I liked the colour of their kit” to “They won the league when I was born” to “I like their style of play”. The final comment is the one I really want to take issue with, as a football fan myself I watch as neutral to be entertained but as a fan to see my club be the best they can be however they play. Thus if Arsenal fielded 11 clod hopping goons I would still follow them, as much as if Arsenal fielded 11 Lionel Messi’s The reason being, I am not in the business of being entertained. Yes I would love to be, but at the end of the day, I want effort and success however it happens, and I wouldn’t swap that for being a you score 5 and we’ll score 4 team that loses all their games and finishes bottom. Football is entertainment by default not by design. It is a sport, which just happens to be really good to watch. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying teams shouldn’t try and be entertaining, I am saying that this isn’t the entertainment business; if you want to be entertained watch opera, although for me that’s pushing it. The key is that despite being of supposedly poor quality the FL Championship is seeing a boom in attendances, and further from that, if it was all about entertainment, then 95% of clubs on this planet wouldn’t exist, because who wants to watch 22 average footballers kick a bag of wind around a field of grass, when you can watch, 22 finely tuned, lean, mean, footballing artists caress the leather with geometric precision that would make Pythagoras proud, I wonder!
To summarize, I can see no real problem with the 6+5 rule. All I see is advantages, in that it gives the fans what they want, and brings the game back closer to the roots which helped make it the world’s greatest sport, which if I am not mistaken can only make it stronger!