Now they've gone and done it

That outfit is a straight red card

Yesterday, FIFA’s congress officially thumbed their noses at the European Union and voted overwhelmingly to adopt Sepp Blatter’s 6+5 proposal. Over the next 4 years, FIFA plans to mandate that football clubs have an increasing quota of national players that start any given match. Starting in 2010, barring any legal challenge, teams will be required to field at least 4 national players. This number will rise each year until 2012 when all teams in all countries will be required to field 6 national players.

There’s no word on what will happen to teams that fail to adhere to the 6+5 rule, after all this is just “exploratory” according to FA chief Brian Barwick. Also, there are already signs that the plan will fail immediately upon legal challenge with EU spokesman John MacDonald saying

If they were to implement the ‘six plus five rule’ in Europe what would happen is any professional football player who feels aggrieved by the rule would be able to take the football club concerned to court and he would probably win the case.

Interesting that the player would take the club to court, after all it’s not really the club that is forcing the rule. So, again there are a lot of unknowns about how this whole thing will play out, who will be suing who, and what FIFA will use to punish teams that violate the rule.

Another aspect which hasn’t been worked out is exactly what will be defined as a “national player.” Sepp Blatter is suggesting that players like Owen Hargreaves might count toward the quota. He said that Man U filled the rule when they fielded 6 players for the Champions League final. Technically, this is true. Hargreaves was born in Canada but due to the Act of Union is eligible for English citizenship and thus the English national team.

There’s no word on whether naturalized players like Arsenal’s Manuel Almunia might be eligible but I suspect he will; judging by the Hargreaves comment, it looks like just having the proper passport is the only qualification. Almunia will receive his British passport in December and as long as he never responds to a call up from Spain, would be eligible to play for England. And of course, in Britain, Welsh, British, Scottish, Canadian, Australian, and Northern Ireland (among others) are eligible to hold a British passport. France, as well, has a ton of African countries where the citizens can claim a French passport. Right now, I can’t see any way for FIFA to further discriminate and force teams to only pick people who have a genetic heritage linked to some piece of soil but given Blatter’s current position I have no doubt that proposal is forthcoming.

For my regular readers you know how I feel about this proposal: basically it’s a Nationalistic quota based affirmative action program. This proposal will not do anything that Blatter thinks it will. First, it will not bring up the level of English players, even Steve McClaren (who is an unabashed nationalist) sees that

People are trying to change (the percentage of English players) through legislation, through quotas. I can see that concept but the main one I’m concerned about is improving our players and improving our coaches because if you do that you’ve got a long-term plan.

He’s 100% correct here. If you really want to make English players better, you have to make English coaches better. They are the ones who teach players like Martin Taylor that hard tackles and heart are more important than technique. Not at Arsenal: at Arsenal kids are taught technique first and tactics second. Is there any wonder why Arsenal’s academy has turned out more skilled English players than any other academy?

But overhauling the culture of English football is a difficult fix. Playing on fan’s nationalism and introducing a hard quota is easy. You get the fans behind the idea, it’s easy to manage (punish teams who don’t fit the quota), and it’s easy to implement.

Another lie bandied about is that the proposal will help small clubs. HA!  It won’t make teams like Arsenal and Man U less dominating because they have the capital and academic infrastructure to weather the coming storm.

English players, who already command a hefty premium, are about to get a whole lot more expensive, it’s simple economics. If the rules are that a team must field 6 players with the correct passports then teams like Arsenal will pay for those passports. So, instead of signing a player like Samir Nasri they would sign Bentley or Shawn Wright Phillips. Instead of Adebayor, they’d get Crouch. Football fans know immediately when I name these names what would happen to the lower clubs.

In the 6+5 system, players like Crouch go from being decent players who might go to Portsmouth to being valuable players. Big clubs like Arsenal, clubs with 60,000 seat arenas and Champions League football, will be able to lure players like Crouch with the promise of a big salary… if they could prise him away from Liverpool, who would be desperate to keep an English player of Crouch’s “quality.” So, instead of leveling the playing field, the 6+5 rule would concentrate talent even further into the hands of the big four. Because the big lie here is that there’s some huge hidden pool of English talent who would get a start if only they were given a chance.

The other reason why English talent would concentrate in the hands of the big four is because their academies are head and shoulders better than others. You only need to look at all the Englishmen who currently play in the Premiership who have come through Arsenal’s academy to see what would happen. Instead of letting a player like Bentley go he’d be starting at Arsenal or if they did sell him, it would be for a huge sum certainly out of the reach of a team like Blackburn.

In the end, I’m not opposed to the proposal because I think it’s going to hurt the Arsenal. I oppose the proposal because it’s illegal, discriminatory, based in Nationalism, and it won’t achieve anything that they suggest that it will. In short, it’s the perfect plan for a small minded man like Sepp Blatter. Let’s hope that it’s challenged and overturned immediately.