A British government minister has called for restrictions on the number of foreigners playing in the English Premier League.
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Andy Burnham said he is prepared to lobby for a change in EU law if it serves the interests of the England national team.
“There is an argument for a system of quotas, both in terms of supporting the national team and helping to secure more equal competition within the Premier League,” Burnham said in Saturday’s edition of the Times newspaper.
“I would be quite prepared to go to Europe and say this is our proposal, let’s see if we can get clearance for this. Ultimately, sport is about national teams. European law should recognize the special nature of sport and be applied sensitively,” he said.
FIFA has proposed a quota system that would force teams to start matches with a minimum of six homegrown players. The scheme has the personal backing of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and an overwhelming majority of delegates at FIFA’s last annual conference voted in favor of the idea.
However, any quota system would be illegal under current EU law, which guarantees citizens the right to work in any member state.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who frequently selects sides without any English players, was also fiercely critical of the plan, saying it would “kill” the Premier League while doing nothing to help the England team.
Yet David Triesman, the chairman of the English Football Association, believes the national team is suffering.
“There’s a problem that there are too few players who are eligible to play for England playing in the Premiership,” he told the Times. “We have got to look at this and look at this fast.”
England failed to qualify for this year’s European Championship.
During their final qualifying game, a 3-2 home defeat to Croatia in November, then manager Steve McClaren was reduced to sending on Darren Bent, the fourth-choice striker of mid-table side Tottenham, in a bid to score an equalizer.
McClaren’s successor, Fabio Capello, complained on Friday that he was at a disadvantage compared to his rivals as only 35 percent of Premier League players are eligible for the national team.
Burnham sympathizes and claims his motives are altruistic.
“I am not xenophobic in any way, but I care about the health of English football, the state of the grass roots game, the quality of the competition and the ability to win of the national team,” he said.
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