- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter got some needed backing this week in his bid to transform the face of club soccer.

A report from the Institute for European Affairs, a powerful legal think tank, concluded that the “6+5 rule,” a measure calling for clubs to play more homegrown players, is compatible with European law.

FIFA already passed a resolution in favor of the rule and is supported by 155 FIFA member nations. The European Union, however, objected to the plan, declaring it discriminatory and illegal.

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The rule requires each club to begin a game with at least six players eligible to play for the national team of the country where the club is located. So, for example,12 English players - six on each team - would be required to start when Arsenal plays Liverpool.

Dream on, Sepp.

Likewise, AC Milan would start at least six Italians, plus David Beckham. Milan did just that against Werder Bremen on Thursday night in its 2-2 tie in the UEFA Cup.

Blatter favors the rule as a means of preserving the integrity of national teams and creating more parity in competitions. He also wants to stop what he sees as the “trafficking” of young players from Africa and South America to Europe, which limits the promotion of junior players on European clubs.

Blatter is supported in his quest by Europe’s powerful soccer chief, Michel Platini, who dislikes seeing the same old English clubs with their foreign legionnaires reaching the later stages of the Champions League.

Teams in the big leagues currently have few restrictions on who they can sign. The number of English players represented in the English Premier League has fallen to a record low of 34.1 percent. The percentage of homegrown players in Italy (75 percent), Spain (65 percent) and Germany (45 percent) is higher.

Adjusting to the 6+5 rule represents a major challenge for the EPL’s “Big Four” clubs, all of which were involved in Champions League action this week.

There were no English players in Arsenal’s starting lineup in their 1-0 win over Roma. There were, however, five Frenchmen, two Ivorians, a Spaniard, a Brazilian, a Dutchman and a Dane. Now, if you were the French national team coach preparing for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, that game would be worth watching. But for England boss Fabio Capello, who’s there to scout out?

Manchester United started two Englishmen in the scoreless tie at Inter Milan; Chelsea started three in the 1-0 win at home over Juventus, and Liverpool had one English player at the opening whistle in the 1-0 away win at Real Madrid.

With those results, the “Big Four,” with their multinational lineups, all are in good position to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals.

You can expect the outcome to be far different if Blatter and Platini get their way. That’s why there’s so much resistance by the English giants to the quota rule.

D.C. United - D.C. United on Friday signed Croatian-born defender Dejan Jakovic, who joins the club in a transfer from Serbian team Red Star Belgrade. The 6-foot-2, 23-year-old defender is a Canadian citizen and a starter for Canada’s Under-23 (Olympic) team. He made three starts for Red Star in league play in 2008-09.

Big Cat is back - Tony “Big Cat” Sanneh played as center back for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Pan-Pacific Championship recently. The former D.C. United star’s sudden reappearance in MLS is surprising. Whether the 37-year-old can help plug the Galaxy’s leaky defense remains to be seen, all the best to the Big Cat.

Peace Cup - Celtic and Rangers are not only battling for the Scottish Premier League title. This year’s winner also will receive an invitation to play in the 2009 Peace Cup in Spain for a shot at the $2 million prize. The 12-team preseason event also includes clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus, Lyon and Porto.

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