Quotas, Dead Fans & 'Italian' Champs Inter Milan

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/24/2010 12:20:00 AM
Ah, Inter Milan, Campioni d'Europa after beating Bayern Munich in the 2010 UEFA Champions League finals. As followers of European football know, the top finishers in the first divisions of European competitions have the opportunity to participate in the Champions League where, literally, the best sides in Europe vie annually for the greatest prize in club football.

My Milanese flatmate regales me with stories of wild celebrations breaking out at home after Inter Milan won its first Champions League final in over forty years. Dutifully, however, I pointed out that there was much criticism of how Inter Milan 'represented' Italy. Yes, their players had national flags on their jerseys. But no, not a single starter was Italian--the first time that a Champions League team did not feature such a national. It was only with about a minute to go that the (soon gone?) Portugese coach and self-styled 'special one' Jose Mourinho introduced diehard Inter player Marco Materazzi of Zinedine Zidane headbutt fame.

It was a small gesture indicating that, gee, maybe Italians should play for an Italian side. However, it apparently was not enough to pacify some passionate Italian fans. My flatmate told me that in the city of Turin--about an hour to an hour and a half north of Milan--a fan raised the same objection I did about this 'Italian' squad. Unfortunately, however, all he had to show for for his efforts was a fatal stabbing. From Agence France Presse:
A man was stabbed to death in the northern Italian city of Turin in a dispute over Inter Milan after the football team won the Champions League final, the ANSA news agency reported today. The victim, a 63-year-old, was stabbed in the chest and arm and died at one of Turin's hospitals. The man and his assailant began arguing in a bar late yesterday over Inter's fielding of too many foreign players to be truly considered an "Italian" team, according to ANSA's reconstruction of events.
The late football fan (RIP; may there be plentiful Italian footballers among the angels and ariels where you have gone) certainly did not deserve his tragicomic fate. Indeed, there has been much debate in football about the excessive representation of foreign hired guns in European sides contesting Champions League qualification in their national leagues. After all, what is the representativeness of Inter Milan being the champions of Italy with so few Italian regulars? Some years ago, respective FIFA and UEFA presidents Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini took issue with excessive deployment of non-nationals in European leagues. Their proposal was to limit Champions League berths to '6+5' teams or those featuring at least six starters of the team's nationality (or in a milder revision, those brought up in the club system). In principle it sounds good to help preserve national footballing character and encourage player development. In practice, however, it cannot be since it runs afoul of EU laws on labour mobility:
Just before Euro 2008 kicks off tomorrow (7 June), the European Parliament's [former] President Hans-Gert Pöttering met with FIFA and UEFA presidents Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in a failed attempt to convince the world football governing body not to introduce national quotas on players - a move judged contrary to Community law.

FIFA's congress voted (155 'yes', 5 'no') on 30 May 2008 in favour of a resolution requesting the presidents of FIFA and UEFA to explore all possible means within the limits of European law to ensure that the "6+5" objectives can be carried out accordingly. According to the FIFA 6 + 5 rule at least six players on the field at the beginning of each match would have to come from the country of the club they are playing for. With this rule FIFA aims to restore clubs' national or local identities and encourage them to invest time and money in the education of young players, instead of buying players from around the workd.

According to the Commission, limiting the number of foreign players in club competitions constitutes discrimination based on nationality and is against Community law, which guarantees the freedom of movement of workers (see European Court of Justice Bosman ruling on the freedom of movement of professional footballers).

The EU executive is more in favour of UEFA's 'home-grown' rule, on which it recently commissioned a specific study. According to the UEFA rule, football clubs need to have a minimum number of locally-trained players in the team of core players, but it does not impose nationality quotas.

The clash between FIFA and the Commission originates from the fact that the EU executive considers professional football as it does any other economic activity, which means EU internal market rules apply. Meanwhile, FIFA argues that the mention of the 'specific nature of sport' in the new Lisbon Treaty means that football is not concerned by those rules.

The meeting between Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering and FIFA and UEFA presidents Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini took place on 5 June. It follows a Parliament vote against the 6+5 rule in early May and the Commission's warning, last week, that EU member states will face infringement procedures if their national football leagues apply FIFA's nationality-based quota on players.

In the meeting, all parties outlined their positions on the issue. Pöttering namely restated the Commission and Parliament's stance on the illegality of the rule, while UEFA acknowledged its support for its objectives - restoring the competitive balance between national team football and club football and safeguarding the education and training of young players. Nevertheless, UEFA acknowledges that the rule as such is illegal in the EU context.
All parties agreed that "factual discussions" on the issue "would be continued at a later date". Before the meeting, Socialist MEPs called on the Parliament President to clearly pass the message on to FIFA that "football is not above the law or treaties". According to insiders, the 6+5 rule will never be implemented, because for it to come into effect, FIFA would have to enter into legal conflict with the Commission and this is highly unlikely.
And therein lies the rub: under Article 39 of the EC Treaty, various plans to limit places on squads to foreigners--quotas, if you will--represent a form of labour discrimination. This law was most famously tested in the footballing context by the 'Bosman Case' of the eponymous player seeking redress at the European Court of Justice under the aforementioned article. The ECJ ruled in Bosman's favour, effectively striking down all national quotas of the sort Blatter and Platini wish to bring back. Prior to Bosman, European sides could only have 3 foreign players at the most. Here is a quick summary of the intricacies involved in reintroducing player quotas:
Legal Framework

The laws that govern this issue primarily relate to Article 39 of the EC Treaty. This basically means that every European Member State that is a member of the EC (such as Germany, Italy or Spain for example) has to obey European-wide laws on a number of issues. One such law is Article 39 which relates to the free movement of workers, which include football players. Article 39 only relates to players playing inside a European Member State. Therefore an English player in Japan could not use Article 39 to challenge Japanese football rules.

Bosman and the Free Transfer

The ‘Bosman’ case is seen by many football commentators as the most significant European football case of all time. Jean-Marc Bosman was a footballer playing for a Belgium club called Leige. His playing contract expired in 1990 but the club that wished to buy him (Dunkerque) did not offer a large enough transfer fee to Leige. As a result Leige held on to his registration and did not allow him to leave the club. The reason why this story is the most important football decision ever made in the EC is because the European courts in 1995 (five years after his complaint) ruled that:

1. When a European footballer came to the end of his contract he was free to sign for any European club he wished and that it was illegal for the club he had played for to hold on to his playing registration; and
2. As foreigner quotas were in operation in European competitions, such quotas which allowed for a limit of three “foreign” players in a team squad were also illegal. Both issues were ruled unlawful under Article 39.
And from this ruling sprang forth today's footballing monstrosities like 'Italian' champions Inter Milan and endless Real Madrid galacticos squads. As much as I support labour migration, the concept has its contextual limitations. No more is this situation more evident than in football where there is more national symbolism involved than in, say, selling office furniture. If you claim to represent Italy, it's common sense to play some Italian players (or a majority of them as per Blatter and Platini). What is emerging is that while the powers-that-be in Brussels are not enamoured with national quotas, they are more favourably disposed to those requiring teams to have more players who grew up within a club's system of junior and lower division squads.

Though the argument needs sharpening, there is a case that rules of origin are the more applicable trade-related laws in the case of fielding Champions League teams from Italy (or Germany for that matter). What would you prefer? Inter Milan-style misrepresentation or a derogation of EU labour laws to ensure that representative sides actually have players from the nations in whose leagues they compete in and claim to represent? Unequivocally, I would go with the latter choice. It may not be worth dying for, but it's a worthy cause nonetheless.