FIFA’s proposal to protect national teams: Should Owen Hargreaves be insulted?

Today FIFA and FIfPro proposed the implementation of a six plus five system, whereby six members of a side must be homegrown. The intended proposal can be looked on at many different levels. In fact, look no further than today’s game between Arsenal and West Ham.
For a club like Arsenal this ruling is a blow, where 11 out of the 11 starting players this season have been from a foreign country. Ashley Cole, the only reliable English starter transferred to Chelsea and was replaced by William Gallas of France. Arsene Wenger’s club faces a West Ham team that has no problems starting Nigel Reo-Coker, Anton Ferdinand, Marlon Harwood, Bobby Zamora, Carlton Cole, and Paul Konchesky, all John Bull players.
In fact Alan Pardew made no bones about his displeasure last March with Arsenal’s polyglot team threatening “the soul of British football – the English player”. To which Wenger accused Pardew of leveling statements that bordered on racism.
Pardew’s statement was a bit of moral grandstanding considering he has no problems welcoming Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano this season to the West Ham side. In fact, the proposed West Ham takeover would have another Corinthian player, Carlos Alberto joining in the January transfer.
What one does not get is Pardew’s “soul of British football” comment? Does Alan Pardew have words for Chelsea and Man Utd? The soul of English football is not just exclusive to the players, it is how the clubs are run. In fact, if we cared about an abstraction such as this then Pardew should question why a Russian oil oligarch runs Chelsea; a US real estate moghul controls Man Utd, or even why he is allowing a proposed takeover by an Israeli hotelier of his own club.
Sepp Blatter says that the proposal provides an incentive in developing players on the local level as clubs will be reassured that the players will remain with them, rather than transferring out. This is in turn will protect the national team.
Great words but hollow in portent. The fact that the Premiership is the only league that is attracting record breaking attendance as compared to other leagues, where numbers are stagnating or are in decline, is because it attracts the best players from the world. A league that was moribund a decade ago and was third fiddle to the La Liga and the Serie is now putting these Leagues in the shade. As for the national team, does a Steven Gerrard not look at a Thierry Henry, when the two club teams meet and improve his level of play knowing fully well that France could meet England in Euro 2008 or World Cup 2010? Having foreign players such as Henry and Drogba at club level enhances the English squad.
The best player in the English squad this World Cup, Owen Hargreaves of Bayern Munich has not even played Premiership football, so this talk of protecting national teams is empty rhetoric. From the way he played it seemed Hargreaves was the only one who cared about protecting the national team. When a player dons the colours of his country, he is in the business of national protection, no matter where else he might play the game. An artificial provision is not going to teach him that.
Crystal Palace has produced great players … for other teams. Most recently, Andy Johnson of Everton. Should Crystal Palace feel aggrieved that they lost another player for the greener pastures of a Premiership club? Absolutely. Is there anyone at Palace thanking his stars that Johnson did not join Real? No. The loss of a player is the same whether he moves down the road or another continent away. Is Ashley Cole any less a mercenary for moving to Chelsea rather than AC Milan? If Roman Abramovich had not found Cole in the limited pool of English players available, he would have looked elsewhere. If a club invests in a player’s development only to lose him, does it make it worse if he moved overseas rather than playing in the national league? Somehow FIFA’s proposal does not make that distinction.
On a different level, the increased demand for foreign players, especially from Africa, in these leagues has led to their national teams becoming stronger leading to no free rides for the European and South American teams in international competitions. The unrestricted transfer of foreign players has enhanced the game and in doing so, given their national teams a real shot at the big international titles. Ghana the best team on display, did not even have a single player playing in the domestic league.
I seriously hope this proposal that FIFA is endorsing along with the FIfPro (the players association) that might be in effect by 2010 does not come to pass. It would be a reversal of the Bosman ruling, that has given so much to the game. On the other hand, FIFA should do more to stamp out racism, diving, betting, and corruption. Lets start with Blatter himself!
Here is a proposal: Having had a club invest so much in a player’s development should also guarantee them a few years of service to the club before he can entertain offers. The club should make every opportunity available for him to play. A proposal that is worth considering. It applies to medical students who avail of government funding and then serve a few years in the NHS before they are eligible to join up a hospital of their choice or a practice.
Here is Wenger’s angry rejoinder to the FIFA proposal >>

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