On this day (23 December) in 1995 there was a great deal of speculation that Manchester City would be the first team to field four ‘foreign players’ which wound PFA chief Gordon Taylor up considerably. There had been a rule in place limiting the number of foreign players to three but this had been challenged by English clubs, following the historic Bosman judgement in the European Court of Justice.
Basically, before Bosman challenged the restrictive trade practices UEFA insisted that a maximum of three foreign players could appear for clubs. The Bosman judgement was immediately considered by Premier League clubs who felt it meant they could play as many players from the European Union as they wanted (though the maximum of 3 from outside the EU was still a limit).
The Premier League, supported by the FA, said the ruling meant that City and other clubs could play as many EU players as they wanted. At Maine Road Alan Ball had brought Danish under-21 international Ronnie Ekelund on loan and together with Eike Immel, Uwe Rosler and Georgi Kinkladze it was suggested he would play against Chelsea on 23 December 1995.
In the end Ekelund came on as substitute for Rosler, so 4 ‘foreign players’ had appeared that day but only 3 at any one time (though there’s a whole other discussion to be had about players from other United Kingdom countries and Ireland and whether they should count as that day the Republic of Ireland’s Niall Quinn played, as did Gerry Creaney from Scotland and Welsh international Kit Symons!).
As for the game… City lost 1-0 to Chelsea!
Ekelund had a brief up and down career at City, making only 6 (plus 3 as sub) appearances and he was soon off to Barcelona, while the change to the ‘foreign player’ rule was to have a massive impact on the development of football in England, paving the way for the multitude of talented players at City today.
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