By Andrew Warshaw
Scotland looks set to become one of the first countries to implement UEFA's recommended quotas for locally trained players in the hope of resurrecting the ambitions of the national team after years of underachievement.
At its XXIX ordinary Congress in Tallinn last month, Europe's national associations unanimously approved UEFA's new measures for nurturing local talent. Under the plan, at least two players per squad of 25 for UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup games would be trained by their club's own academy from season 2006/07, with a further two to have been developed by other clubs from within the same association. By the start of the 2008/09 season, each club would have in its 25-man roster not four but eight locally-trained players - four plus four.
Although the new guidelines only apply officially to UEFA club competitions, member nations have been asked to consider introducing the same rule in domestic leagues - and Scotland, which has slipped to 86th in the world rankings, have given the plan an immediate thumbs up.
Scottish Football Association chief executive David Taylor says his federation will press ahead with home-grown quotas both in the Scottish Premier League and lower leagues. "The board of the SFA have agreed to take this forward for discussion with the Scottish Premier League and other leagues to introduce this system," Taylor told uefa.com. "We have to make sure the proposals are worked through but the initial response has been positive.
"The decision in principle is that we want to go ahead with this. We feel that medium-sized countries like Scotland have really suffered in recent years because of the influx of overseas players which has restricted our ability in terms of the national team and the development of the game in our country. When you have a situation where you have some 40 per cent of players who are not eligible for the national team, that's difficult."
Had the new regulations already been in force this season, both of Scotland's top clubs, Celtic FC and Rangers FC, would have been eligible for UEFA competitions thanks to having a large number of young Scottish players in their squads. However, in terms of their first XIs, as in England, foreign players often outnumbered locals.
For Taylor, it is important that a new balance is struck between Scottish and foreign talent. "We don't want to damage the prospect of Scottish clubs playing in Europe but the fact is these guidelines represent an important start in redressing the balance," he said.
We need to do something pro-active to help produce more quality players and this will give us hope for the game in Scotland. We must provide youngsters with a platform to encourage them that they can make it at the highest level in club and international football."
UEFA believes the new plan will discourage clubs from hoarding élite players in their squads. Some were sceptical about the long-term effects, but Taylor says most of UEFA's 52 member associations are in favour of reinforcing some kind of identity at domestic level.
"There is a Europe-wide move in favour of this," said Taylor. "Most of the federations are behind it. In the long run, it will improve Scotland's prospects. Anyway, having an identity is good for football." In a recent Scottish Premier League game between Dundee United FC and Kilmarnock FC, there was only one non-Scot in the starting lineups. The shape, some may hope, of things to come.
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