THE burning issue of international eligibility threatens to shake the Scottish Football Association to its foundations if they are rail-roaded into accepting new FIFA regulations.
David Taylor, the chief executive of the SFA, admitted last night that Scotland's very existence as an independent football nation is at the mercy of the Home International Board, who will meet later this month to decide whether to reject or embrace the controversial new guidelines drawn up by world football's governing body.
If rejected, Berti Vogts would be free to select players such as Didier Agathe and Lorenzo Amoruso, provided they apply for a British passport. The news was met with contempt by the team captain, Christian Dailly, who revealed last night that he would lead a squad rebellion
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to keep the dressing room a foreigner-free zone.
''I am totally and utterly against it,'' said the Hall of Fame entrant. ''I would rather lose with a team of Scots than win with a team of foreign players and it wouldn't matter if Zinedine Zidane was in it. It becomes like club football. I've nothing against the players mentioned but they could never feel the way I do when I am picked to play for my country.''
Taylor insisted that Scotland are in a precarious position unless they win the support of the other three home nations in a meeting scheduled for the end of the month in London. The pact agreed in 1993, whereby dual nationality was settled on bloodline, could be nullified if England, apparently receptive to the idea, sided with FIFA.
That would open the floodgates for an international transfer market, in effect, which could in turn jeopardise the separate sporting identities of the four home countries.
''We have to watch it does not become a free-for-all with the home countries trying to get the best players available,'' said Taylor after arriving in Cardiff yesterday. ''It goes to the heart of why we exist as a separate country and could force people into asking why we do not have a UK football team.
''We are enshrined in the laws of the game and have special privileges as the second oldest association in the world but that can be overturned by a 75% vote by the 204 member associations of FIFA.''
Under the new proposals, the preposterous prospect of foreign players being eligible to play for Scotland with no natural link has become a distinct possibility. The bloodline agreement reached by the football associations of Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland addressed the issue of dual nationality but FIFA have moved to extend the boundaries in time for the next World Cup, in 2006.
Essentially, this ''transitional'' year will enable Vogts to invite any foreign players with four years' service in Scotland and no previous senior international caps for their own countries, such as Amoruso and Agathe, to apply for a British passport before being available for selection. Similarly, any player who has played to under-18 level internationally is free to switch to another country under dual nationality provided there is no objection from the original association under whom he played.
To further complicate matters, a two-year residency regulation could be enforced for previously uncapped players to play for the country in which they reside, even if it is not their country of origin in Britain, a loophole that would enable Alan Thompson, for example, to play for Scotland.
Taylor stressed his own stance was not complicated by the fact that the national team is managed by a German but admitted he will consult with Vogts, his SFA executive committee colleagues and the Association of Tartan Armies before heading to London for what could be an historic day for British football.
There will be no shortage of dissenting voices if FIFA have their way and a dressing room revolt cannot be discounted.
''The feeling you get in your stomach when you are named in your first squad makes football more than just a job and
it is not something you can replicate,'' said Dailly.
Vogts, in danger of combusting with any further mention of Agathe or Amoruso, was even more agitated than usual yesterday. ''I have said it all before but tomorrow I will only play Scottish boys, okay?'' Sounds like a popular policy.
Graham Spiers, Page 28