One of the biggest challenges facing European football is that, since the European Court of Justice's Bosman ruling of 1995 and the rapid growth of television revenue, the richest clubs have been able to stockpile (or 'hoard') the best players, making it easier for them to dominate both national and European competitions.
At the same time, clubs have fewer incentives to train their own players or give a genuine chance to young players from their region. This trend is exacerbated by the increasingly unreliable financial compensation for training young players who leave early, and the ability of many European clubs to 'poach' young players from the age of 16 from across the European Union.
UEFA's rule aims to encourage the local training of young players, and increase the openness and fairness of European competitions. It also aims to counter the trend for hoarding players, and to try to re-establish a 'local' identity at clubs.
From 2008/09, clubs in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League required a minimum of eight homegrown players in a squad limited to 25. These rules are also in force in several national leagues across Europe.
UEFA introduced the rule in three phases:
- Season 2006/07: minimum of four homegrown players in 25-man squad
- Season 2007/08: minimum of six homegrown players in 25-man squad
- Season 2008/09: minimum of eight homegrown players in 25-man squad
Clubs have no obligation to put a certain number of homegrown players on the field of play, or on the matchsheet. They are entirely free in their team and matchday squad selection.
UEFA defines locally-trained or 'homegrown' players as those who, regardless of their nationality, have been trained by their club or by another club in the same national association for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21. Up to half of the locally-trained players must be from the club itself, with the others being either from the club itself or from other clubs in the same association.
The UEFA rule contains no nationality conditions whatsoever because within the EU such conditions are illegal (following the Bosman ruling). The European Commission stated that the UEFA rule was legal in a statement in May 2008, and that a review would take place in 2012.
UEFA unveiled its proposals in February 2005 and they received the support of the national associations at the governing body's Congress in Tallinn two months later.
Fans responding to a UEFA.com user survey gave their backing – more than 80% wanted clubs to maintain a local identity.
Before launching the new rules, UEFA organised a two-year consultation with fans, national associations, national leagues, clubs, players' unions, and all the institutions of the EU.
In parallel, UEFA spent two years providing detailed research to the European Commission Directorates-General that were most interested in the rule (Education and Culture, Employment and Social Affairs, Competition, and the Legal Service).