FIFA faces another "Bosman" over Blatter player plans

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BRUSSELS, Oct 5 (Reuters) FIFA will face a flood of court cases similar to the landmark ''Bosman ruling'' if it pursues president Sepp Blatter's proposal to limit the number of foreigners playing for clubs, EU officials said today.

The head of soccer's world governing body is also expected to face stiff opposition from a number of top clubs over his plan to cap the number of non-nationals in a team's starting 11 at just five per match from 2010.

''This contravenes the EU treaty and internal-market rules on the free movement of workers,'' said Frederic Vincent, spokesman for European Union sports commissioner Jan Figel.

But Blatter wants sport to be given an exemption from EU rules, in particular those governing labour and multi-billion euro television rights, under the bloc's new reform treaty due to be agreed upon by EU governments this month.

''You cannot compare a worker with a football player,'' Blatter told reporters during a conference call today.

''You cannot consider a footballer like any normal worker because you need 11 to play a match -- and they are more artists than workers.'' But Vincent said: ''A worker is a worker, so a player is a worker who earns a salary like everybody else.'' The G14, which represents 18 of Europe's most powerful clubs, warned Blatter last December against creating such a rule. Its head at the time, Arsenal's then vice-chairman David Dein, said the G14 would challenge such a restriction in court.

''I have the support from Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson,'' Blatter said.

Manchester United is a member of the G14 along with clubs such as Liverpool, Real Madrid and AC Milan.

''We have no immediate comment to make as yet,'' a G14 spokesman said.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose squad for its Champions League outing this week contained just one English-born player, said today he firmly opposed the move by Blatter.

BOSMAN CASE This is not the first bout between FIFA and EU authorities.

In 1995, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Europe's highest court, gave all sports professionals within the EU more freedom to change clubs in a decision known as the ''Bosman ruling'' -- named after Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman, who took the case which changed the face of the game.

One EU official described Blatter's latest move as ''a Bosman two waiting to happen''.

''Bosman was costly for the sport. This could be even more costly for FIFA, UEFA, but especially any club which decides to go down this path,'' the official told Reuters.

Authorities such as FIFA and UEFA, national associations, or clubs that endorse Blatter's plan and limit foreign players could be challenged in their national courts or ultimately at the ECJ, leading to expensive legal bills and punishments.

UEFA's decision two seasons ago to introduce mandatory use of the so-called ''homegrown player'' rule, which sets a minimum number of players trained at a local club or within a certain country for a number of years, is already under scrutiny.

UEFA has sought to sidestep the EU rules by not mentioning the term ''nationality''. But under the bloc's recent white paper on sport, Brussels is investigating whether the rule is compatible with EU laws.

''We need to have the courage to take these decisions. First we have to express a will. And where there is a will, there is a way,'' Blatter said.

Blatter wants a new FIFA strategic committee to look into the issue next week before an executive committee meeting later this month. He hopes to finalise the plans in time for the FIFA Congress in Sydney next May.


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