Blatter: Game under threat from foreign investors

November 21, 2006

MADRID, Nov 21 (Reuters) - The biggest threat facing soccer is the way in which foreign investors are getting involved who may have no desire to develop the game, according to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Blatter said world soccer's governing body needed the help of governments to help police the way in which the investors were becoming attached to European clubs, especially those in England.

'There exists a system in football at the moment that if we don't stop it will do serious damage,' Blatter told a news conference after being made an honorary member of Real Madrid.

'There are investors who buy clubs, especially in England which happens to be the most attractive but not the best league. There are investors from Iran, Russia, the United States, Georgia all involved there.

'There are a number of organisations that are not transparent, many of which are based in the Caribbean, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar and the Cayman Islands. It is a very delicate matter and we need the help of the judicial authorities in all countries to deal with it.'

Blatter made a thinly-veiled reference to Premier League clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Portsmouth before singling out Tuesday's takeover of West Ham United.

'The latest case we have seen is the president of the Icelandic Federation (Eggert Magnusson) buying West Ham...we need to be careful football doesn't end up in the hands of people who want football to serve them instead of them serving football.'

Blatter also said he was worried about the constant flow of players from Brazil and Argentina into Europe via Portugal and Spain.

'It's a very dangerous activity and it's very difficult to identify where the money comes from and where it goes to,' he said.

Blatter added FIFA was deeply concerned about politicians who put their own interests ahead of the game.

'In some cases a club can be used as a platform for politics such as in Italy,' he said.

'People are getting involved in football for political reasons ahead of football interests. We must safeguard the independence of football and we need the help of politicians to do this.'

While urging European sports ministers to address the issue of the control of clubs, Blatter asked them to study his plan to place a minimum limit of six home-grown players in every team.

'It's one way of achieving a balance in the different clubs and leagues,' he said.

'What we need to do is study it and not just say it won't work. It might give clubs more incentive to train and develop young players themselves rather than just sign ones who are already developed.

'The local and national identification doesn't exist when there are 11 players from 11 different countries. In one game in the Italian league last season Inter Milan had only one European player in the 11 on the pitch,' said Blatter.

'Of course it won't please the big clubs but it might help rectify the financial imbalances.'