The European Union’s top court should overturn European football rules, which require clubs to reserve seats for nationally-trained players, a court legal adviser said on Wednesday.
If Advocate General Maciej Szpunar’s recommendations are followed, European clubs may have to change how they recruit young players.
UEFA – which organizes the Champions League football competition – requires clubs to have at least eight so-called homegrown players on their squad for each match and four to be coached by their current club. National leagues have similar rules. Players must have trained for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21 in the same national league.
Szpunar said judges should side with Royal Antwerp in a Belgian lawsuit over whether the so-called domestic player rule unfairly restricts clubs’ ability to recruit players and violates EU free movement rights.
The requirements can “indirectly discriminate against players from other member states” as most of the players are young and may still be living at home, Szpunar said in his opinion.
The current rules are not consistent in defining a homegrown player, he said, as they currently include players coached by the club and by other clubs in the same country.
“If a club in a major national league can ‘buy’ up to half of the domestic players, the aim of encouraging that club to train young players would be thwarted,” said Szpunar. “Homegrown players should not include players coming from clubs other than the club in question.”
Although the opinion of the Advocate General is not binding, it is often followed by judges in their decision. They provide guidance on EU law issues to a national court that will make the final decision in the case.
In a statement, UEFA said it “takes note of the Advocate General’s recommendation to improve the effectiveness of the existing rules”.
In a statement, Royal Antwerp’s lawyers said they were welcome “the rigor of the First Advocate General’s analysis, recalling the fundamentals of EU law in a salutary exercise of orthodoxy, and its full and complete application to multinationals like UEFA.”
EU court decisions can have a huge impact on football, with the landmark 1995 Bosman ruling allowing players in the EU to transfer to another club at the end of a contract without a transfer fee. The Court is currently weighing how far football associations can go to prevent clubs from forming a breakaway Super League.
The case is C-680/21 Royal Antwerp Football Club.