The Globe’s Ben Knight goes after an easy target today in challenging FIFA president’s Sepp Blatter’s argument for forcing club teams to start six domestic players each game. Currently, foreign talent, especially among the so-called big four clubs (Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool) dominates the EPL. It’s suggested that that reliance has been a major reason for the downfall of England as an international power in the game.
As Knight points out, it’s a stretch to blame United’s success in the Champions League with England’s failure to beat Craotia when it mattered last year. England hasn’t fallen so much as it has stood still while many nations pass it (but let’s keep it in perspective—England is still one of the top 10 or so countries and on a good day it can beat anyone. It just doesn’t do it consistently and it’s not a tier one favourite like Brazil, Germany, Italy, et al.).
Blatter’s plan is a non-starter of course. EU employment laws make it next to impossible to enforce. But, that doesn’t mean that the spirit of what Blatter is talking about doesn’t have some relevance.
Football culture is tribal by nature. Fans, especially hardcore fans like you see in the cheap seats the world over, have a symbiotic relationship with the club. They want the club to represent them in ways that go beyond the strip they wear.
It's why many in Canada would raise hell if MLS eliminated TFC's need to carry Canadians and it's why Jim Brennan is so beloved in that city (and it's why Dwayne DeRosario needs to get his butt to T.O. yesterday). It's also likely why you would find more Manchester City fans in Manchester than you would find fans of United--The Evil Empire may win, but it hardly represents the typical working class bloke from the city.
In many ways the world’s game is moving away from its tribal roots. Although many will view that as a good thing—less chance of hooliganism—you must be careful not to lose sight of the reasons why the game is as popular as it is—the passion of its fans. The more soccer’s ruling class pushes away from the smelly underclass the more it runs the risk of alienating those fans. History tells us that professional sports can insult and ignore its fan base almost at will (see: Maple Leafs, Toronto – post expansion years), but soccer could be different (see: FC United of Manchester).
Blatter’s rules won’t fly, but that doesn’t mean that Europe’s top teams should ignore local talent. You gotta take care of the one that brought you to the dance after all...