Joseph S. Blatter held a round table with journalists from the main press agencies on 7 May 2008. Ahead of the forthcoming FIFA Congress (29-30 May 2008), the FIFA President explained why in his opinion the so-called '6+5' rule, which will be discussed at the Congress, is crucial to the future of football.
Read on to see what the president of world football's governing body had to say...
*On the '6+5' rule and other topics for discussion at the Congress*
** The '6+5' rule will be one of the subjects discussed at the FIFA Congress. It represents the extension of a series of measures taken by FIFA at the May 2007 Congress and finalised by the Executive Committee in October and whose aims are to protect minors, protect youth training, adapt the transfer system to today's realities and ensure tighter control over the actions of players' agents. Moreover, we will also discuss another "related" problem at the Congress - that of players taking on other nationalities. At the moment, after a two-year period a player can receive nationality from another country. Based on the misuse of this system that we have already seen, we want to increase this period to five years. If we do not, I would not be surprised if in 2014, half the players in the World Cup were of Brazilian origin...
On the aims of the '6+5' rule
We need to ask supporters around the world the following questions: are you in favour of a strong national team? Are you in favour of national team players playing for the top clubs in your country's league? Are you in favour of youth players being trained and then getting access to the first team at their original club? Do you want players who have come through the youth system at a club to sign their first pro contact with that club? If you answer "yes" to all these questions, then like me you are in favour of the '6+5' rule.
*On the compatibility of the '6+5' rule with European laws
*Contrary to what may have been said, the '6+5' rule does not contravene the European Labour Law on the freedom of movement. Clubs will still be free to take on as many foreign players as they want. When a match kicks off however, they will have to have six players on the pitch who are eligible for the national team of the country in question. Furthermore, the '6+5' rule supports another European Law, namely regarding having the broadest and fairest possible competition and restricting the concentration of finances and economic monopolies. This is the direction that football is going in. In the five main European championships at the moment, four-fifths of the teams are battling to avoid relegation to a lower division. This is not a sign that football is in good health. It is the proof that a minority of clubs control everything - money, players and means.
We are not trying to defy the laws that are in place. We have to struggle all year round against governmental interference in the affairs of Member Associations so we are not about to start interfering ourselves! Having said that, if we do not intervene, the fairness of the sport will be further endangered and identification with national teams is going to disappear. In the end it will all be down to money, there will be no more sporting competition or local or regional sentiment.
*On the various stages of implementation of the '6+5' rule*
** I am going to make a suggestion to the Congress and ask the FIFA members for a mandate. I hope that they will give me this mandate so that we can start discussions with everybody involved in football - the leagues, the players, the national associations and the clubs - as well as those from the political scene - notably the European Union and the governments. I will of course be accompanied by UEFA President Michel Platini in my dealings with the European Union.
On the measures proposed by UEFA
The 4+4 or 'home-grown rule' proposed by UEFA has one major shortcoming - it does not protect players who are eligible for the national team of the club in question. Under this system, the richest clubs would merely have to buy players at an even younger age than they are currently doing. Michel Platini is in favour of the '6+5' system, he just thinks that it will be difficult to implement. But we have a lot of support. Many of our member associations have come out in favour of it as have famous players and coaches such as Gianfranco Zola, Roy Keane, Alex Ferguson, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer.
Personally, I am convinced that it is far from impossible to solve the problem. The figures from the five main European championships (Germany, England, Spain, France and Italy) are not that far away from '6+5'. 43% of squads are made up of players who are not eligible. England and Germany are the only ones who are above 50%. Of course, rich clubs will always be able to buy the best players in the country. We are not fighting over money, we are fighting to keep a minimum of local, regional or national identity. We are fighting for youth training and this goes all the way up to the national teams. Rich clubs will stay rich but those less well off will stand a chance, that's all we ask for.
On the solidarity created by the '6+5' rule
Let's be honest: the Champions League is the biggest league in the world, but 80 per cent of the income it generates goes directly to the 32 participating clubs, and even more to the clubs who progress further in the competition. This season has been symptomatic. There were three English clubs in the semi-finals and two in the final, who will get even more money. Europe cannot carry on being so selfish. We need to have solidarity and to help others in order to maintain a balance in football. Europe looks after its rich clubs well but needs to look after those that are less well off. The '6+5' rule will redress the balance in sporting terms and I can guarantee that continents like South America and Africa are behind us on this, as they are the suppliers for the big European clubs and they are suffering from the exodus of their players. The President of the CAF Issa Hayatou for example defended the '6+5' rule at the African Confederation's Congress last January.
On how to convince the European Union
On behalf of FIFA I have been fighting for the past 33 years to defend the universality of our sport. There is room for us to discuss this with Europe and the governments, the door is not closed, and we are not alone in this. The Olympic Committee supports us, and the international volleyball, basketball and rugby federations are looking to introduce similar rules. It is easy to talk about solidarity but more difficult to actually implement it. We need to convince the world and the media, but I'm an optimist by nature and I'm convinced that we'll manage it.