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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UEFA Eliminates Quotas on Foreign Players

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European soccer's governing body, UEFA, has fallen into line with a court decision banning limits on foreign players, a move the European Union welcomed Tuesday.

The EU also warned the soccer chiefs that the transfer system must also be immediately changed.

UEFA bowed Monday to threats of fines and court cases and agreed to drop quotas on the number of foreign players allowed at European clubs.

"The 3-plus-2 rule is gone from today,'' UEFA president Lennart Johansson said Monday. "It doesn't exist.''

The decision came more than two months after the EU's highest court ruled the practice illegal.

"We welcome it with qualified satisfaction,'' said Willy Helin, spokesman for the EU's Executive Commission on Tuesday. "It's only normal,'' he added.

UEFA had sought to preserve its limit of three non-nationals and two "assimilated'' foreigners who have been playing in the host country at least five years.

But the European Court of Justice judged that infringed EU laws granting citizens of the 15 member nations equal access to work anywhere within the Union.

Monday's decision means clubs in any UEFA nation, inside or outside of the EU, will no longer be restricted to the number of foreign players they can field.

Clubs playing in quarterfinals of European cup competitions' March 5, including Spartak Moscow, say they will voluntarily continue to apply the 3-plus-2 rule for the rest of the season.

EU officials acknowledge it would be tough for the Commission to attempt to overrule that.

Johansson also hoped that what appeared to be a UEFA climbdown did not open the door to more interference from Brussels.

"I would have preferred them to be a little more careful and a little polite,'' he said. "They just came with a threat and were very hostile with their talking. I thought they were there to serve us members and not to dictate."

But Helin warned the UEFA decision to scrap the foreigner rule would not push the Commission towards leniency when it came to implementing the second part of the landmark European court ruling -- the illegality of international transfer fees once a player's contract has expired.

The EU's Commission has given UEFA until March 1 to fall in line with the court ruling on transfers or face fines that can run to 10 percent of turnover. "There is just no transitional period,'' Helin insisted.

The EU Commission and UEFA had been discussing these issues for years without much progress until Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman challenged the system with a test case about his blocked transfer to a French club.

UEFA official David Will said: "UEFA has no intention to do anything but act within the law."

However, he also said that ending foreign player restrictions leaves UEFA with problems for the future.

"The 3-plus-2 and transfer rules were there for the benefit of football and we have somehow to observe completely new concepts within the law," he said. "The transfer system has evolved over 100 years, nationality rules have been in existence for at least 30 years and it will take time to replace these."

On the main Bosman case ruling that clubs with players out of contract can no longer command a transfer fee, Will said: "Somehow we have to find money for youth training.

"Until now it has been provided by the transfer system by funds cascading down from the biggest clubs.

"We have to find a way of replacing that ... we could have a percentage going into a pool which would then be paid out to smaller clubs to assist with youth training.

"Or we could have a system for players up to the age of 25 whereby the original club will receive some recompense for the actual outlay on training and education."

The abolition of foreign player limits will also be felt in the Russian Professional Soccer League, according to Vladimir Rodionov, secretary general of the Russian Football Union.

On Tuesday, Rodionov said that Russia, as a member of UEFA, will have to abide by the latest ruling.

"We will have an RFU Executive Committee meeting this week and my understanding is that we'll change the rule for this season," he said.

Any decisions will have to be made quickly, as the league opens March 2 with 16 of the 18 clubs in action, and Russia's soccer authorities seemed to be caught off-guard by the decision.

Just last Friday, RFU president Vyacheslav Koloskov, the man in charge of policing the country's soccer laws, had said EU court ruling would not have any effect on CIS countries.

Koloskov, who is also a FIFA vice president, said that the European court ruling only applies to 21 European nations while "to my knowledge, FIFA, which includes 199 countries, does not plan to change any existing soccer rules."

The change could seriously damage Russian soccer by removing barriers to westward movement of players. Russian clubs are unable to compete financially with those in Western Europe. The top team, Spartak Moscow, has already lost several key players.

(AP, Reuters)

-- Gennady Fyodorov also contributed to this article.