The Football Association in England has implemented a new rule that reserves four places in each match day squad exclusively for English players from the 2013/2014 season in The National Futsal League. Many other leagues across the world have various similar restrictions to limit the number of foreign players allowed in each team.

The objective of these restrictions is to improve the performance of the national team. The theory being that by having more eligible players playing regularly at the top level in the country, it will mean that the standard of these players improves. Here I give my personal opinion on these types of rules.

What is the connection?

There is a correlation between few domestic players playing in the top national division and a lack of quality players in the respective national teams, and the restrictions appear to be based on the assumption that this is the direction of causation as well (i.e. Fewer local players in the top division leads to lower national team performance).  I would argue that the contrary holds more truth; it is the existence of a lack of quality in local players that means teams then opt to bring in more talented foreign players.

Spain Develops World Class Players

Spain Develops World Class Players

In Spain there is no limit on the selection of foreign players and yet their league still features a large number of Spanish players, many of whom are considered among the best players in the world, and the national team is very successful. People see a lot of foreigners and a lack of local talent and, without investigating further, come to the conclusion that the former is causing the latter, when it could also be the other way around.

Could it not be that clubs must turn to foreigners because, at youth level, the players are not being developed as well as they are in other countries? If this is the case then the question needs be asked: what is the difference at youth level that is causing their domestic players to be less skilful?

Home Advantage

I don’t believe it should matter which country you were born in. I prefer to see the person succeed who has worked the hardest to develop their ability, regardless of their country of birth. In this way sport should not be different from any other trade. When you call for a plumber, is your main concern their ability to do the job, or whether or not they possess a British passport? I don’t think it is fair that you are differentiated just because of the place you happened to have been born.

The local player already has a head start in the quest to succeed, as they are familiar with the culture, language, league and style of play in their country. If you gift local players too much, such as guaranteed spots, then you are just protecting them from competition and it is competition that gives people the incentive and motivation to improve.

DAGENHAM, ENGLAND - MAY 26: XXX during the Futsal International friendly match between England and Denmark at SportHouse on May 26, 2012 in Dagenham, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger - The FA/The FA via Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

Playing for England in 2012

Playing for England in 2012
Competition not only encourages individuals to improve, but also the national youth development system as well; with restrictions you are just making it easier to produce players that will make it to the top level. This may sound good, but in actual fact doesn’t necessarily mean that you are developing better players, rather just lowering the bar of what they need to produce to get there. Further it lessens the incentive for those involved in youth development to find out what other countries are doing that is resulting in them developing better players and so inhibits improvements being made.

World Class Level in Home Country
The idea that restricting the amount of foreigners leads to more opportunities for local players to play at the highest level is, in my opinion, misleading. Let’s take the example of the sport of football in England.  Here, they could introduce a rule that says foreign players are no longer allowed in the English leagues. The result would be that the national team coach has hundreds of players, playing at Premier League level to choose from. Does this mean that they will be better players? Not necessarily, because all that would happen is the standard of the Premier League would reduce, maybe to where the standard of the Championship or League One (2nd & 3rd divisions in England) are currently.

As I have said before, I believe that the best way to improve is to challenge yourself just above your current level. So, if you are a good English player at the moment in English football you are able to get an opportunity at Championship level, but if you are a great player you have the opportunity to test yourself at a world class level in the Premier League, playing with the best from around the world. Therefore, currently, English football players have the opportunity to play at whatever level is most suitable for their development and because of the presence of foreigners in the Premier League this goes all the way up to the world elite level. They don’t have to go abroad to be able to test themselves against the best, as they did in the past. Hence, having a rule that permits only a very limited number of foreign players could actually mean the best domestic players leave the league.

These types of rules can also work against improving the results of a national team. My own development could be used as an example. In England, futsal is relatively new and the level has been quite low, with leagues abroad being much stronger. As an English player, I have gone abroad to play in professional leagues where the higher level has meant I have developed a lot as a player. This means that the national team now has a better player available to them than they would have had. However, if other leagues restricted to only allow one or two foreigners then these opportunities would have been much more difficult for me to obtain.

Club v Country
Key to this debate is what you see the role of a national league. What is the balance between being there to supply the national team or to entertain? My personal preference is that club futsal is the place where you get to see the best compete against the best and international level is where you measure the quality of a country’s players. If national leagues restrict to only a couple of foreigners then the best teams will basically just be the national teams and this is seen currently in many countries where there are stringent restrictions already in place. If every country enforced restrictions then the quality of futsal overall would be lower, because no competition would exist where the best play with, and against, the best.

I am not against these rules in their entirety but just want to caution against being over restrictive and ensure that the true consequences of doing so are considered. Furthermore, let’s not think that they are the solution to the poor performance of national teams, because then we could neglect improving the youth development system.

It is essential to promote youth development, as the future of the sport depends on it. I therefore propose a better rule would be making it mandatory to have three under 23 domestic players in each squad. This would encourage all teams to invest in youth development and give young players, who are the future of the national team, better opportunities. After they have been given this opportunity to show and develop their talent, i.e. reached 23 years of age, they would then have to compete with everyone else. I believe it is much better to provide opportunities for domestic players to prove themselves and show what they can do, rather than just guaranteeing privileges without having to work for it.

I am sure many of you have your own views on this subject, some quite different to my own, and I would be interested to hear your opinions below.

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  1. Stephen Finn

    Hi Doug,

    In Ireland we started with a four Irish players in each squad rule and it didn't really have any positive influence on the development of players.

    I understand that there is a desire to help make the England team stronger behind these rules but I agree with your point about lowering the bar.

    What it may lead to is more foreign players who could get British passports then following that line and playing for England. Then the England futsal team would be like the England cricket team and capping players from all over the world (Including Ireland by the way!!!) and so how is that a true 'England' team?

    If players are settled in a country and identify with it and will give something back to that country's sport after they retire then I can understand somebody with no ancestral link to a country declaring for it but somebody who just wants a cap to boost their CV and then leaves a year or two later isn't the same.

    There's no easy solution to the matter you mentioned but I'd agree that it's better to get clubs focusing on the youth. If the rule was that top division clubs only get a licence if they have an under 19 section then perhaps that would help grow young talent.

  2. Doug Reed

    Hi Stephen.

    Good points and interesting to know that the same rule in Ireland didn't have any positive effect on developing players.


  3. Diane Hallas

    Your blog is excellent, Doug and I agree with much of what you have to say. And although I think it is a step in the right direction, I think under 23 is still too late?!

    The difficulty is trying to fund youth development. All three of my boys have had futsal coaching from a young age and are the better for it (I, on the contrary, am significantly worse off – financially). However, my boys have been lucky to have had excellent futsal coaches on the doorstep. The problem is that those futsal coaches are spread too thin. There have been times when young teams have had to coach themselves at tournaments because there are no other coaches available.

    The university system offers a funding stream to pay coaches, either British or foreign, and this empowers and improves players, but this doesn't happen lower down the age groups. Even the current futsal scholarship drive for 16-18 year olds uses existing football coaches who are willing to give futsal 'a go', with only a handful of clubs asking for expertise from existing futsal coaches, either British or foreign.

    Let's use these imported players to impart their knowledge, understanding and experience of the game. Pay them, to play but to coach also – and do the same with good British players too.

    In less lucrative sports, this is how foreign expertise is utilised. Gymnastics is a good example.

    Football is still being run by people who see futsal as an interference rather than a coaching development and, whilst this is the case, futsal national teams will not progress, nor will the national picture for football.


  4. Doug Reed

    Hi Diane.

    Thanks for your post.

    The reason I chose U23 is because it means that by the time the players would no longer be protected by the quota they are near full maturity and in a position to compete with experienced players. I think before this age players are still progressing rapidly and need to be given more time to develop.

    Definitely in England there is a lack of futsal coaches with knowledge, with many futsal coaches just football coaches adopting football exercises and may have never seen a futsal game! For me this is a big problem. One important aspect of improving youth development must be to improve and extend the coach education of futsal coaches. At this stage in England this is where utilising foreign experience is essential.

    A good player is not necessarily a good coach but I agree their experience has something to offer. We must ensure that if we use players as coaches they are also educated in how to coach.

    Your last comment is very relevant. However I think they see it less as an interference and more as something that improves their CV or their status rather than really dedicating themselves to the sport and gaining the necessary knowledge.

    Thanks again and I wish your boys the best with their futsal,


  5. paul bilecki

    Doug some really good thoughts by you and the replies.
    I would agree with Diane that 23 is too late and 21 may be better!
    I currently work with the 6 – 12 age group (along with older groups) and over the past three years have seen a real improvement in skills and understanding of the game!
    I know some people within the FA were concerned that Futsal could become more popular than Football but I believe things are now changing and they can see the benefits at grassroots for player development.

  6. JF

    On this, Gary Neville has just called for a quota system for the English Premier League:

    Again he is arguing for it on the basis of young players not being developed adequately and having the opportunity to play – to the extent that he feels he wouldn't have made it as a top player if he was 18 now.

    I agree Doug, if you are going to have a quota, you should definitely restrict it to young players so that they get the chance to play with the best – from all over – at a vital stage in their development, allowing them to develop as rounded players and get early experience of top level competition. If you don't restrict it on age, it really does seem a bit pointless in terms of developing the game. Stephen's points about the experience of it not working in Ireland and the impact it could actually have on those competing for national team places are interesting. Perhaps before implementing any such rules, proper research should firstly be done of the results of doing this from elsewhere and looking at how successful youth development systems have been put into place for other sports – particularly when the sport is at an earlier stage of development, as with futsal.

    As in the article, actually within the EU, there is also a legal question on any discrimination between EU workers when looking at professional players.

    I definitely agree that there is a lack of investment in good futsal coaching – if the sport is going to develop you need experienced futsal coaches right from the national manager down to the grass roots. The skills, tactics and mental awareness needed for futsal are different to that in football so a football manager simply trying to transfer without gaining the needed skills and experience is never going to work.

    Rather than the restrictions the FA have brought in for futsal, I think bringing coaches in from countries where futsal is of a higher standard would help most with youth and coaching development and improving the level of the English leagues overall. There are obviously some good English coaches, but not nearly enough of them.

    In my personal opinion futsal is a much more exciting sport to watch than football and if the investment in teams, facilities and skilled coaches was there, it could really become very popular, with increased participation and spectator numbers.

  7. futsal1958

    Nice piece, Doug. I think it would be interesting to throw into the mix the case of Italy, where young Italian players have been denied the opportunity to play internationally because of the aggressive recruiting of world-class Brazilians. I'm not sure what exactly the situation is now but I think that even at the youth level, Italy was fielding mostly Brazilians.

  8. Doug Reed

    Thanks for your post Futsal1958.

    A few years ago the whole of the Italian squad were Brazilian born naturalised Italians. However that has slowly started to change and now around half the squad are players that were born and grew up in Italy. This, of course, denied Italian players the chance to play at international level. However, let's be clear, this would not be stopped by quotas because these Brazilian players obtained Italian passports so they would be able to take the places reserved for domestic players. It is a different subject.

    However to comment on the situation of national teams naturalising players from other countries, I am against it if the player's development has not been strongly influenced in that country. If they moved their during their teenage years then, for me, that is fine but if they moved as a top class senior player and quickly receive a passport then I don't think they should play for the national team. Russia in recent years have been very bad for this but they are not the only ones doing it. This can destroy the motivation of home grown players to try to reach the international level.

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