Friday, 26 June 2009

Chelsea Running Into Trouble With Homegrown Rule

I'm sure right now that Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea's almost confirmed first signing of the summer, is quite the happy bunny. If Manchester City of all clubs were unable to satisfy his demands then a team with a wage structure (or lack thereof) such as Chelsea are surely paying him like a prince, especially when his transfer fee (to be decided by a tribunal) will be so relatively low.

Sturridge, who will turn 20 this September, is one of those tantalising prospects who we dare not talk about. A striker with pace and height, a good eye for not only goals but also assists (which means he'll be shunted out to the wings at times) and who Robinho admired at City with a pretend boot-shining goal celebration, Sturridge could be a real prospect. Although not the finished article he has the advantage of a good head on his shoulders.

The principal thing that has held him back so far in his career has been injuries (notably one to the hip which kept him sidelined for nine months in 2007) and of course the recent plethora of forward signings that the Citizens have made since their takeover. First making a name for himself in the FA Youth Cup (he's already scored at Stamford Bridge, with the first goal of the first leg of the 2008 final) Sturridge has notched goals at reserve and first team level for City and also for all England age groups up to U20 level.

However, what suprised me the most about this signing is the speed at which Chelsea worked. The Blues have been linked with Sturridge since the turn of the year (and have been sniffing around since 2006!) and it seems like they declared their interest to him at an early stage. And then today someone asked me about the UEFA 'homegrown' player rule and how it affects clubs in the Champions and Europa Leagues...

After a gradual roll out from 2006 UEFA's 4+4 rule came into full effect last season with regard club teams registering players for European competitions. There are quite a few specifics but the general gist is that every team must make eligible 4 players who have been trained by clubs in their associations (in Chelsea's case of course, England) and 4 more players who have been trained by the club itself. These players must be put on the A list of 25.

Chelsea already have a few players who qualify for the latter category in John Terry, Michael Mancienne, potentially Scott Sinclair and Miroslav Stoch (this is to be confirmed) and third choice goalkeeper Rhys Taylor. This means that even if new boss Carlo Ancelotti does not consider three of Mancienne, Sinclair, Stoch and Taylor in his top 25 players he cannot otherwise fill these gaps. Last year, Chelsea simply elected to register only 22 players on the A list, but fortunately did not experience many injury or suspension issues.

In terms of players trained in England, the Blues have Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Joe Cole which means that the club either forfeit another spot on the A list or do something about it! And that's where I think Daniel Sturridge comes in, since he qualifies as being trained in this country for three years before his 21st birthday. But take a look at the current Chelsea squad and one finds that the Blues are right on the remaining limit of 17 players (Cech, Hilario, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Ferreira, Alex, Carvalho, Mikel, Belletti, Essien, Ballack, Deco, Malouda, Kalou, Anelka, Drogba, Di Santo).

With Claudio Pizarro returning from his bizarrely succesful loan spell at Werder Bremen and Andrei Shevchenko coming back from AC Milan, Peter Kenyon and Frank Arnesen know that the club must offload or have first team players on the books who are ineligible for European competition. Evidently, the two returning loan players are likely the first ones out the door and Deco will surely follow, but that would still leave the club open to signing only one player before Ancelotti calls a team meeting and starts playing musical chairs.

-- Ross Mooring

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