The quality of our youth academy is the great challenge of Belgian professional football, both in terms of the viability of our business model and in terms of our social responsibility. If the best players trained by our clubs do not get a chance to play in our league, it is unlikely that the future generation of Red Devils will be able to live up to the expectations of the public.
Antwerp case escalates
A judge in Belgium has asked the European Union’s court in Luxembourg to examine if UEFA-backed homegrown player rules, designed to protect young local talents, comply with free movement of labour and competition law across the region.
UEFA got approval from its members in 2005 to create a rule designed to protect local-trained players in its club competitions.
The Belgian FA applied those rules domestically in 2011, and it is in that country where the legal challenge started.
In 2020 Royal Antwerp and its then-player Lior Refaelov (pictured), an Israel international, challenged the Belgian FA for setting quotas of homegrown players in a club’s first-team squad and matchday team list.
A Belgian club’s squad limit of 25 senior players over the age of 21 must include eight players who were developed in the country. At least six homegrown players must be among the starting lineup or substitutes for a game.
Lawyers for Royal Antwerp and Refaelov argued their ability to recruit, be signed and make team selections have been limited by the law.
Among their arguments is that homegrown quotas favour higher population countries where there is a larger pool of players to pick from. Belgium’s population is around 11.5 million.
National team feeling the benefits
Belgium are presently number one in the men's FIFA rankings, an indication the Belgian FA would argue of the viability of the quotas.
And the federation has the support of the Belgian Pro League, which has issued a strong defence of the homegrown players quota, insisting it has no plans to abolish the rules.
Pierre Francois, CEO of the Pro League, said: "Each club may express its views on this subject, but it is the policy of the Pro League as an association to meet even more public and political expectations in the future in order to achieve an increase in both the number of contracts offered to young players trained by our clubs and the percentage of playing minutes that these players accumulate. It is with a view to strengthening the training and specifically the post formation of young talents that we entered into discussions with the two amateur leagues and reached an agreement to integrate our U23 teams into these competitions.
"The quality of our youth academy is the great challenge of Belgian professional football, both in terms of the viability of our business model and in terms of our social responsibility. If the best players trained by our clubs do not get a chance to play in our league, it is unlikely that the future generation of Red Devils will be able to live up to the expectations of the public."
Since 2009, a club playing in UEFA competitions has to name eight homegrown players of any nationality in a 25-player squad. There are no quotas on team selection. At least four of the homegrown players must have spent three years with the club between the ages of 15 and 21. Up to four could have been trained at another club from the same country.
The involvement of the EUCJ here is significant in that it was that same court which delivered the so-called Bosman Ruling in 1995.
That verdict in favour of Belgian Jean-Marc Bosman freed out-of-contract players to join another club without a transfer fee. It also ended nationality quotas, which limited clubs hiring players from inside the EU.
One of Bosman’s lawyers, Jean-Louis Dupont, is part of the team representing Royal Antwerp in this case.