Poland’s football federation, PZPN, is placing restrictions on non-EU players in that only three can be on the pitch at any one time. This won’t stop Polish clubs from signing as many overseas players as they want, but who would fancy a move to Warsaw or Krakow just to sit on the bench?
The rationale is to improve Poland’s lot in the international game, both at club and national level, by bringing on homegrown players. Poland are currently ranked 30th in the FIFA list, but have dropped as low as 78 and as high as 16th in recent years. They are still unbeaten in the 2016 European Championship qualifiers, but they are slugging it out with Germany and Scotland.
The new regulations will also restrict lower division clubs to one non-EU player and from 2016-17, top division clubs will only be permitted two non-EU players on the pitch.
Of course, EU nations cannot refuse employment to EU citizens, so the Polish FA avoided a sticky situation by limiting its ruling to players from Asia, Africa and South America. Switzerland and Norway, both non-EU members, are not included as both countries are part of the Schengen zone.
A quick look at the leading squads in the Ekstraklasa reveals that clubs should not have too many problems meeting the ruling this season.
Legia Warsaw: A couple of Brazilians and a Croatian
Lech Poznan: A Ukrainian, a Zimbabwean and a Bosnian
Slask Wroclaw: One Brazilian (and they also have Tom Hateley, son of Mark, grandson of Tony!)
Wisla Krakow: Two players from Haiti and the ubiquitous Brazilian
Gornik Zabrze: A Ukrainian, a Bosnian and a Zimbabwean.
The Polish Ekstraklasa kicked off last weekend. Wisla met Gornik (result 1-1, attendance 10,003) and of the 22 starting players, Wisla had seven Poles and Gornik eight. Gornik had three Slovaks in their line-up, so effectively no non-EU players. Wisla had a Hungarian, two Slovaks and a Brazilian.
The question is, will Poland merely be the first country to turn to protectionism? It will be a closely-watched experiment, that’s for certain.