Regardless of their nationality, such home-grown players are players who have been trained for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21 by their current club or by another club of the same national association.
The compatibility of this rule with EU law, and in particular with the principle of freedom of movement of workers under Article 45 TFEU, is currently being considered by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The question was referred by a Belgian court in a case between a football player and the Royal Antwerp Football Club on the one hand, and UEFA and the Belgian football association URBSFA on the other. The judgment in case C-680/21 is yet to be delivered, but the Advocate General’s Opinion has been published recently.
Although these clauses make no direct reference to nationality, the Advocate General has no doubt that they place foreign players, in fact, at a disadvantage. He argues that a local player is significantly more likely to have played for a club of his home association between the ages of 15 and 21 than a foreign player. Since the rule indirectly affects foreign players, some from other EU Member States, they infringe the freedom of movement of workers.
At this point, the question arises if these restrictions of EU law are justified. UEFA pursues two objectives in the public interest with the home-grown rule: on the one hand training and recruiting young players, and on the other hand ensuring the competitive balance between teams.
In an interesting consideration and balancing exercise, the Advocate General concludes that these reasons of public interest are so important that they justify restrictions to the freedom of movement of workers, but only if and insofar as they require that the players have been trained in the participating club. However, he fails to see the rationale on how these public interest purposes could be achieved with a regulation according to which the players must have been trained in a (different) club of the same national association. Hence, in this respect, there is no justification.
In summary, the Advocate General establishes that UEFA’s home-grown rule should be limited to young players trained in the participating club, as favouring players trained in other clubs of the same national association over players trained in other countries is unjustified.