Home-grown football players and European Union law

In 1995, a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in Bosman transformed the football transfer system forever. In 2023, a new landmark ruling may emerge, as a rule on 'home-grown players' may be declared incompatible with European Union Law.
Articles 30/03/2023

In 1995, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling in Bosman forever transformed the football transfer system. Such legislation revolved around the applicability of what is now Article 45 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), concerning the right of freedom of movement, to professional footballers.

In addition, Bosman had a significant impact on what is called nationality playing quotas since, during this judgement, it was claimed that imposing a limit of foreign players in a squad restricted their freedom of movement, as one would be ineligible to sign a new contract with a club when their quota of foreign players is already filled.

In the 2008-2009 season, UEFA established a new ‘home-grown player rule’, demanding that football clubs include at least eight players in their 25-player squad considered ‘home-grown’. Such players are those developed by the club in question or by a club within the same football association for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21, irrespective of their nationality.

The rule on ‘home-grown players’ is under scrutiny by the Brussels Court of First Instance, as it may be infringing, once again, the freedom of movement of workers, presented in Article 45 TFEU. However, to analyse if the mandatory inclusion of “home-grown players” in a squad is an infringement of European Union Law, the abovementioned Court referred to the CJEU, using a preliminary ruling, the question of whether the rule is necessary and proportional for the sake of understanding if it constitutes a justified or unjustified restriction.

In the meantime, the Advocate General has already issued his opinion on the matter, in case C-680/21, deserving our close attention.

Firstly, the Advocate General questioned if an overriding interest could justify the restriction on the freedom of movement imposed on professional footballers.

There are two reasons, regarded as legitimate, behind the rule, being:

** Encouraging the training and recruitment of young football players;

** Improving the competitive balance between teams, preserving equality and matching outcome uncertainty.

Afterwards, the suitability of the ‘home-grown player’ rule to achieve said objectives was debated. On this matter, the Advocate General considered that the definition of a ‘home-grown player’ rendered the contested provisions incoherent.

When it comes to encouraging the training and recruitment of young football players, as a ‘home-grown player’ is not necessarily a player developed by the club itself, a club can buy players considered ‘home-grown’ from other clubs, the frustrating such end goal.

For instance, big football clubs, such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, may merely buy the necessary players to fulfil their ‘home-grown player’ quota without training and recruiting any footballer.

Therefore, while the training anrecruitingyoung football players could justify the rule, extending the definition of a ‘home-grown player’ to footballers outside the club in question but inside the same football association appears unreasonable.

The same rationale applies to improving the competitive balance between teams since, once more, clubs with higher financial possibilities, seeking to fulfil their ‘home-grown player’ quota, will acquire the talented home-grown players from other clubs, affecting the competitive balance of teams.

For that reason, it is relevant to distinguish between players developed by the club itself and those set by clubs from the same football association. It is from the Advocate General’s understanding that the definition of ‘home-grown player’, including players not developed by the club in question, determines that the system is incoherent and unsuitable for achieving the intended purposes.

In conclusion, the Advocate General stated that the rule on ‘home-grown players’ is partially incompatible with European Union Law until the definition of a ‘home-grown player’ is modified only to include football players trained and developed by the club itself.

The content of this information does not constitute any specific legal advice; the latter can only be given when faced with a specific case. Please contact us for any further clarification or information deemed necessary in what concerns the application of the law.


Practice Areas

  • Sports Law