Category: Archive

Seismic shift

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In that sort of competitive environment, how many of the current Irish squad would be ranked among the five best outsiders in their squads? Shay Given? After him, the list gets thin real quick. Robbie Keane could make a case. Richard Dunne when he’s in form. Aiden McGeady will presumably not be at Celtic much longer but even he might eventually struggle when he does arrive in England. We can differ on the merits of individual players but it’s pretty obvious the overall impact would be seismic. At least it would give Stephen Ireland one more reason not to bother.
Joking aside, the truly worrisome thing about this idea is Blatter appears perversely determined to push through with it. No matter what the cost. No matter what the caliber of opposition Already, he’s been warned any such quota rule would be illegal in the European Union because of the infringement on workers’ rights. Most sane people would have taken that as a sign the whole concept was a little off. Not Blatter. The Swiss didn’t become ruler of world football by taking no for an answer. Instead, he commissioned a report from the Institute of European Affairs to investigate the legal obstacles. A report from which he has drawn fresh hope.
“This study confirms that we are not breaching European law in defending the 6+5 rule,” said Blatter. “On behalf of FIFA and its member associations, I would like to express my pleasure at this finding. Through 6+5, we wish to encourage the development of young players, protect national teams and maintain competitiveness and the unpredictability of results. This is why 6+5 is beneficial to football. It is also supported by the IOC and has been ratified by other team sports, such as basketball, handball, ice hockey, rugby and volleyball, which all face the same problems.”
Those who follow the internecine politics of FIFA and its business affairs might contend Blatter is all the more determined to explore this idea just because the outside opposition to it is so vehement. He’s that kind of character. And, it’s a measure of his power and control within the game that at FIFA’s Congress in Sydney last May, an initial vote on whether to pursue 6-5 was carried by 155 votes to five. That’s a Cork county board type endorsement.
Back then, the English FA voted in favor of the motion even though their own members specifically asked them to vote against. The Premier League “Big Four” are among the most trenchant critics of the idea. To this point, the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United have had no problems conforming to UEFA rules demanding their 25-man Champions League squads have four players who trained at the club for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21, and four more trained within the same national association. A lot of their foreign stars can fit into those categories. Blatter’s proposal however would make nationality trump every other criteria. Instead of being classified as home-reared, Cesc Fabregas would just be one of the five foreigners allowed.
From an Irish point of view, there’s other stuff to consider here too. All second and third generation Irish in England would be almost immediately off-limits because declaring for Ireland would be detrimental to their chances of making it at club level. It wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility either for Irish kids arriving at English club academies at 15 being warned off playing for their country. Imagine agents informing teenagers their chances of ever reaching the first team would be greatly improved by opting for an English passport after five years living over there.
If the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s obvious that wearing the green jersey doesn’t mean as much to some of today’s players as it did to previous generations. We’ve already witnessed the practice of footballers deciding to end their international careers earlier in order to prolong the club careers and sustain their earning power. Blatter’s insanity would entail a few careers never getting off the ground at all as individuals might sacrifice the call of country altogether just to better their chances of tying down a lucrative first-team spot at club level.
There’s a precedent for this sort of thing too. Back in the early nineties, UEFA had restrictions on the number of foreigners a team could use in their competitions. United fans (their ranks swelled by the number of arrivistes who had discovered the club just the previous season) will recall a tortuous night at the Camp Nou in 1994 when Barcelona destroyed a makeshift selection. Allowed to use only three foreigners and two assimilated players (who’d come through the club’s youth system), Alex Ferguson chose to leave out Peter Schmeichel and to start Gary Walsh in his stead. A 4-0 drubbing ensued.
Arguably the only positive to emerge from the adoption of 6-5 would be its impact on the League of Ireland. Teenage wunderkinds would be more inclined to stay at home during their formative years and others might have no choice but to return from England to a country where their nationality wouldn’t be an impediment.
Anybody who thinks all this a little far-fetched must understand that Blatter is capable of anything. This is the guy who awarded next year’s World Cup to South Africa, a country whose ability to safely host such a tournament remains to be seen.

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