British clubs fall foul of Euro ruling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 1995, 12:00am

WITH the minimum of fuss but considerable fanfare, British clubs were firmly booted off the European football stage last week leaving commentators to lament on the growing gap between the game there and on the continent.

At face value, statements pertaining to the disparity in skill and performance seem to have total validity.

From north to south, east to west, British teams were put to the sword in what was nothing more or less than a rout.

Scotland's flag-bearers Rangers, the dominant force in football there over the past eight seasons, were made to look like juveniles by Juventus. There was likewise no joy for Celtic, who managed to escape from the Parc des Princes with a highly creditable 0-1 scoreline, only to lose their way completely against a Paris St Germain side who had the second leg wrapped up by half-time in the Parkhead return.

Blackburn Rovers have been woeful and Liverpool - once kings of Europe - trailed off Anfield losers to Brondby whom they would scarcely have noticed in their halcyon days in Europe. Manchester United disappeared earlier, going out to a Russian club of which not one in 100 United fans had ever heard before the draw.

There is little reason to continue in the same vein - British clubs are currently second rate in Europe.

Can this change - and to what extent did the enforced absence from Europe in the wake of the Heysel tragedy lead to the uninspiring present? There could be positive changes for English clubs if the European Court rules that players from European Community countries can play where they like within the sizeable borders of the Community.

It is the rule forcing competing clubs playing in the three European competitions to use only three 'foreigners' that has brought British clubs so drastically unstuck. In Liverpool's heyday they won the old First Division and the European Cup with only one regular player from England in the team.

Football is bracing itself for an official European Court ruling on the Jean Marc Bosman affair which would basically outlaw transfers. But the equally important ruling in relation to freedom to play in whatever country they wish could certainly save some British blushes in the future.

It is illogical within the present European framework to have footballers discriminated against in the matter of where they live and work. There is complete freedom of movement within member countries and it is a fact of life which UEFA is going to have to accept.

And it is not going to create havoc or direly affect the chances of homegrown talent making it in their own country. These are scare stories that have little basis in objectivity.

There is the immediate language barrier. It may be all very well to say 'let the ball, or the results, do the talking' but one has to be slightly more realistic than that. There are players who travel well and settle quickly and comfortably in new surroundings. There are those who are homesick and return, as quickly as possible, to their roots. Then there is money. It will always be cheaper to produce local talent through the club ranks than import players. In 90 per cent of cases British players will have a career in British football and French players in France.

That's not going to change if or when an European Court ruling becomes law. But what we currently have is a situation where a number of clubs - but primarily British sides - are not able to do themselves justice in European competitions because they cannot use their best players. It is self-evident that if English Premier League football is fast, exciting and filled with talented players from the corners of the globe, then a mere crossing of the English Channel should not bring about the steady demise of its best teams.

It's not travel sickness that does them in - it is simply the fact that they cannot parade their best players. This argument is not advanced because a very large number of Scots, Irish and Welsh play with English sides and fall under the same ruling.