By Mark Chaplin
This week sees UEFA discussing its proposals on the local training of players with its 52 member associations at the UEFA Congress in Tallinn, Estonia.
The proposals, unveiled earlier in the year, follow a lengthy consultation process that involved all of the major stakeholders in European football - as well as the continent's political movers and shakers.
In the opening months of 2005, UEFA intensified its political efforts to explain and generate backing for its proposals. High-level meetings have taken place in Brussels and the capitals of the EU's member states. In many governments and institutions, politicians and officials have recognised UEFA's concerns and support the new plans.
Under the proposals, the 'A' list that teams submit for UEFA club competitions will continue to be limited to 25 players, and from season 2006/07, at least two places on this list will be reserved for players trained by the club's own football academy and a further two places for players trained either by the club's own football academy, or by other clubs from within the same national association. The 'B' list will also continue to exist - involving an unlimited number of Under-21 players who have been at the club for two seasons.
In the following two seasons, one additional place for a club-trained and one additional place for an association-trained player will be reserved on the 'A' list, so that by the 2008/09 season, each club will have in its 25-man squad four club-trained and four association-trained players.
UEFA is concerned that some clubs are not training enough of their own players, but simply taking them from elsewhere. The proposed measures have the objective of creating a better balance in domestic competitions, preventing clubs from simply 'hoarding' players in squads and creating a system whereby locally-trained players would be given a greater opportunity to play regularly in club sides.
In January, UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson headed a UEFA delegation at meetings with the European Commission in Brussels. This was UEFA's first formal meeting with the two members of the European Commission that have most influence on European sport over the next five years: Ján Figel, Commissioner for Education, Training and Culture, and Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for Competition. Mr Figel's responsibilities include sport.
The meetings with the Commissioners took place in a positive spirit, and the two politicians were willing to listen to UEFA's arguments. Although the Commission does not have the right formally to approve UEFA's plans for the local training of players, it is important that UEFA informs and consults Europe's political authorities so that they understand the body's thinking.
UEFA has also met with the 'Friends of Football', the cross-party group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to put over its viewpoint on the local training of players. The 'Friends of Football' have been very supportive of UEFA's plans since the discussions first began in the autumn of 2004.
However, during these invaluable talks, the MEPs also offered a useful indication of the political and legal obstacles that may face the proposals. January's discussion, for example, centred on the risk that UEFA's rule-change might exacerbate the international market for young players. Some MEPs suggested that new rules to protect young players were needed in parallel to the proposals on local training.
UEFA has invited the 'Friends of Football' to visit the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland later this year, so that MEPs can see UEFA's work 'behind the scenes'.
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