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Blatter to seek player cap backing

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Mihir Bose | 14:55 UK time, Friday, 16 May 2008

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, head of world football's governing body, will not ask the Fifa Congress to approve the idea of having only five foreign players in club teams when it meets in Sydney later this month.

Well-informed sources close to Blatter have told me that he will instead ask the Congress to give him powers to try and negotiate such a deal.

Blatter's decision to back away from having a firm Fifa decision insisting club teams field only five foreign players could put on hold Fifa being at loggerheads with the European Union and the laws on free movement of people.

It follows the realisation that the controversial and much-discussed Blatter move has met with resistance not only from the European politicians, but also from his allies in European football.

Indeed, following the Uefa executive committee meeting in Liechtenstein in March, Uefa president Michel Platini, while praising the principle behind Blatter's proposal, put some distance between himself and Blatter on this issue.

Platini said at the time: "I have said to the president of Fifa that I will defend his idea as a friend, but as the president of Uefa I am not going to fight for it.

"It is difficult for me and I have the backing of all the Uefa associations, who are saying they do not want to introduce something that is impossible. The philosophy behind it is a good one but I am not going to burn my fingers in Brussels."

Indeed in his comments, Platini almost seemed to forecast what Blatter would do.

"I think Mr Blatter will ask Congress for the possibility to continue working towards his goal," Platini added.

"He is not going to ask for a vote on the issue flat out. I do not believe he is stupid or idiotic enough to ask for a vote that could bring one of Fifa's major confederations into difficulties."

Blatter is hopeful that the mandate given to him by Congress will help him to convince the lawmakers in Brussels that restricting teams to five foreign players is not a violation of the European Treaty on free movement of workers.

The Blatter argument, I understand, will go something like this.

The European Union is prepared to accept sport has specificity; it is not just like any other economic activity.

So, for instance, a Polish plumber wishing to work in the UK has to get on a flight and come to the UK to seek work.

His ability to find work is governed by the demand for plumbers in the UK.

However, a Polish footballer willing to play in the English Premier League just cannot fly to England and hope to play for a top-flight team.

He must first find a club willing to play him. That club will then have to come to a deal with his club in Poland, unless the player is already a free agent.

This makes football different. Unlike the plumber it is not the footballer who decides but the club.

Blatter and Fifa will argue that this means clubs can and should be able to restrict the number of players they choose from foreign countries.

Plausible as this sounds, it will take a lot of Blatter persuading for Brussels to accept.

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