Why UEFA might have to tighten its homegrown player rule

UEFA might have to tighten its homegrown player rule after a senior lawyer at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) described a key element of the regulation as “not compatible” with the European Union’s freedom of movement principles.

Introduced in 2008, the homegrown rule requires teams to include in their squads a minimum number of players who have either come through their academy or the academies of other teams in the same country.

To comply with EU competition law, the rule does not discriminate on nationality, so a French player who has come through a German side’s academy would count as a homegrown player for a German team in just the same way a German one would.

Despite Brexit, the English and Scottish leagues have kept this rule, with Premier League clubs only allowed to have a maximum of 17 non-homegrown players in their 25-man squads. To qualify as a homegrown player in England, you must have spent three years in an English club’s youth setup before the age of 21.

In 2020, Belgium’s Royal Antwerp challenged the legality of their football association’s homegrown rule in the Belgian courts, as they were prevented from playing Israeli signing Lior Refaelov.

Citing EU competition law, Antwerp’s lawyers claimed their client was disadvantaged by Belgium’s relatively small population. Realising the precedent-setting potential of the case, the Belgian courts quickly referred the matter to the Luxembourg-based ECJ, which adjudicates on matters of EU law.

In a written opinion published on Thursday, advocate-general Maciej Szpunar largely disagreed with Antwerp’s case, stating that sport’s unique nature, or specificity, means it can have rules that seem anti-competitive, providing they are proportionate and serve a noble purpose.

Szpunar writes the rules “appear to be necessary for achieving the objectives of training young players and improving the competitive balance of teams” and that if no such restrictions on recruitment existed “the beautiful game would lose some of its attraction”.

So far, so good for the Royal Belgian Football Association and UEFA.

But Szpunar then makes an observation that could have a dramatic impact on European football, as he effectively says the game’s definition of a homegrown player was too generous.

“Systems in which homegrown players include not only those trained by the club at issue but also those of other clubs in the same national league, are not compatible with free-movement rules,” he writes.

“The contested provisions are not coherent and therefore not suitable for achieving the objective of training young players: homegrown players should not include players emanating from other clubs than the club in question.”

Advocate-generals’ opinions are not legally binding and are intended only as a guide for the judges in ECJ cases. But the judges do usually follow them.

Therefore, it is entirely possible that UEFA will have to tighten the homegrown rule to…

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Read More: Why UEFA might have to tighten its homegrown player rule 2023-03-10 17:30:50

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