Monday, June 25, 2007

FIFA Player restrictions

I have been thinking about how the FIFA restrictions of 4 foreign players per club will impact football and, in particular, the A-League. Of all sports, football has the attributes of a commodity market - few trade restrictions on movement of players and fans, huge numbers of fans, huge numbers of players, international product sponsors, played by all ages, played across the globe, standard rules ...

It is difficult to find the actual foreign players regulations. We tend to get journalists reporting that player movements are happening or not happening because of these restrictions. My understanding is that the limits result from concerns from some countries administrations that their talent was being attracted away at a very young age, decimating local leagues and impacting on 3rd world countries ability to pull together a national team for world cups. I have read this viewpoint. And I think it probably is this viewpoint that has caused countries to lobby FIFA for restrictions. However, I do not believe that it the rule changes will either bolster local sport in these countries nor that it causes talent drain impacts on world cup performance.

It is more likely that England, with its EPL attracting the best talent and richest club owners from across the world, has had its world cup hopes hurt most by unlimited trade in the best players. And the FA has to be constantly on its guard to protect the EPL through auditing and player trade investigations. The benefit is that the EPL is the richest league in the world. But the real impact is being felt by the England team fans - far fewer English born young players are now given the volume and depth of exposure they require to evolve into world class players. On the other hand far more Africans, Brazilians, Australians, eastern Europeans, and now Chinese, are getting that exposure, grooming and training, that will ultimately lift their country of original at the world cup.

What would happen to Chelsea if next season it could only have 4 foreign players? Well that is where I need to do more research as I don't see that happening.

As far as the A-League goes it is going to a have an impact. Teams have already let foreign players go. The more ruthless ones have ensured that lower quality players have gone home early for better replacements (last season Adelaide switched Qu for Diego). Others have stuck with their current four despite coaches leaving most on the bench or in the stand - contracts either solid or low cost. The Roar have heavily publicised their push for foreign players to get citizenship in order to open more opportunities (Korean Seo to become an Ozzie for a space for a new Brazilian).

As the 4 player restriction bites internationally, the top flight from Africa, other parts of the 3rd world world and Brazil will become even more highly prized. The 2nd tier may be forced out of the top flight and seek opportunities in Australia, China, Japan and elsewhere. The 3rd tier and players looking to tail off their careers in style may find it harder. The A-League may have less foreign players, but over the next few years they may be higher quality and more experienced.

Ultimately, I see player restrictions being bad for the 3rd world. I hope they are removed before they get to a stage where as offshore escape opportunities decline and young potential stars look to other more certain, less satifying, perhaps more dangerous sources of income.

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