BRUSSELS (AP) — A senior legal adviser said Thursday that UEFA quotas on homegrown players are partially incompatible with the European Union’s free movement rules, although they may be legitimate in order to develop and recruit youngsters.
Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said UEFA-backed homegrown player quotas are “likely to create indirect discrimination” against players from other EU countries.
Advocate generals routinely provide legal guidance to the European Court of Justice. Their opinions aren’t binding on the Luxembourg-based court, but are followed in most cases.
“It is a fact of life that the younger a player is, the more likely it is that the player resides in his place of origin. It is therefore necessarily players from other member states who will be adversely affected by the contested rules,” the court said in a statement. “Although neutral in wording, the contested provisions place local players at an advantage over players from other member states.”
A judge in Belgium asked the European Union’s court in Luxembourg in 2021 to examine if the rules, designed to protect young local talents, comply with free movement of labor and competition law in the 27-nation bloc.
Rules shaped by UEFA since 2005 — with aims that include limiting wealthy clubs hoarding players from across Europe — and later applied in Belgium were challenged in that country as a restriction on recruitment and team selection options.
Since 2009, a club playing in UEFA competitions must name eight homegrown players of any nationality in a 25-player squad. There are no quotas on matchday team selection. At least four of the homegrown players must have spent three years with the club between the ages of 15 and 21. Up to four could have been trained at another club from the same country.
Because nationality is not a barrier, the UEFA rule was said in 2008 by the European Commission in Brussels to be compatible with free movement of labor.
In Belgium, a club’s squad limit of 25 senior players over the age of 21 must include eight players who were developed in the country. At least six homegrown players must be among the starting lineup or substitutes for a game.
The case was started by Antwerp and its then-player Lior Refaelov, an Israeli international. It challenged the Belgian soccer association for setting quotas of homegrown players in a club’s first-team squad and matchday team list.
Lawyers for Antwerp and Refaelov argued that their ability to recruit, be signed and make team selections has been limited. Among their arguments is that homegrown quotas favor higher population countries having a larger pool of potential players. Belgium’s population is about 11.5 million.
Szpunar noted that the discrimination created by homegrown player quotas might however be justified.
“The contested provisions are, by definition, suitable to achieve the objective of training and recruiting young players,” the court said. “The Advocate General recalls that the Court has, since the seminal Bosman case, already held that, in view of the considerable social importance of sporting activities and in particular football in the European Union, the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players must be accepted as legitimate.”
The court delivered the Bosman Ruling in 1995 that had a seismic effect on soccer.
That verdict in favor of Belgian journeyman Jean-Marc Bosman freed out-of-contract players to join another club without a transfer fee and helped drive up salaries. It also ended nationality quotas which limited clubs hiring players from inside the EU.
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