THERE is a good case for haranguing UEFA's insistence that clubs limit

the number of ''foreigners'' in their tournaments, and the major clubs

throughout the Continent make full use of the logic to pester the

authorities for change. Their claim, that it is basic discrimination to

bar employees from earning their legitimate keep, is hard to combat, and

yet there is a very reasonable argument to be made in favour of the

official attitude.

The 39,000 folk who made Old Trafford a memorable place to be on

Wednesday night, when Manchester United slammed Galatasaray 4-0 in the

Champions' League, would give testament to the contribution to the

evening's entertainment made by four young Englishmen, Simon Davies,

Gary Neville, David Beckham, and Nicky Butt.

Alex Ferguson himself thought they were magnificent, even if their

valiant efforts could not prevent United's failure to reach the quarter

finals of the competition, and by their display they have made a mark in

the first team which guarantees them consideration for places in the


The chances that they would have done so, had it not been for the

foreigners rule in Europe, are slim. Even Ferguson, who is more willing

than others to give youth its head, would baulk at playing as many as

four young men in the same premiership side, except in emergencies, but

the UEFA rule leaves him with little option but to find Englishmen to

slot in around the Cantonas of his squad.

There is a certain irony in the fact that this very Scottish Scot has

to think English in Europe, but many chaps from Govan have had to learn

to be adaptable. While Ferguson would argue strongly that he should have

freedom of choice when he sends out his team, the fact is that the

success of his graduates from the United youth sides is clear evidence

that UEFA are maybe doing the young and promising players of Europe a

big favour.

It is the European body's argument that clubs throughout the Continent

must give the youth of their home country the chance to make progress in

the game, a sentiment with which most close observers of the business

would empathise. And if UEFA correctly has been criticised for bowing to

the lobbies from the rich and mighty in the past -- hence the

exclusivity of the Champions League -- this time they deserve some kudos

for holding the fort against the barrage of Italians, Spaniards et al.

The truth is that if UEFA abandoned their policy and permitted a

free-for-all, the clubs would benefit most in keeping with their riches.

The billionaire Italians and Spanish would be able to buy the best and

stock up with back-up supplies to allow them to dominate the game even

more comprehensively than they have done to date. Maybe some German

teams and others, like Manchester United and Rangers, could get enough

of a slice of the market to make an impact, but they would be struggling

to match the very wealthiest.

Much worse than the prospect of a rich man's cabal ruling the game for

the foreseeable future, however, is the effect such a scenario would

have on the teenage talent in the countries where the millionaire

mentality prevails. How many promising young men would be left

floundering in reserves or less wealthy sides, knowing that they would

never be able to prove themselves at high level, knowing they would

almost certainly never even get the chance?

There would be created an elite band of itinerant mercenaries,

superstars who would be able to sell their skills around the continent,

inevitably discouraging aspiring talents from believing they could

achieve their ambitions to play for the best.

Maybe one or two of the extraordinarily gifted might just make it, but

an enormous number of apprentices would be lost to the game.

All of this may be painting too bleak a picture of a future with no

reins on the top clubs, but at least those who get exceedingly animated

about UEFA's ''unfairness'' should recognise that there is some merit in

their attempt to protect the game as a whole.