Saudi Arabian football leaders are delighted that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has agreed to their proposal that will increase the number of foreign players allowed to be registered in the AFC Champions League from 2023 onward.
At present, each team in the continental competition can register just four foreign players in its squad under the ‘3 plus 1’ rule which means three imports can come from anywhere in the world and one from a fellow Asian nation.
With 11 leagues around the continent allowing more imports for their domestic competition —including the Saudi Professional League, which has a full quota of seven — the AFC rule has increasingly become a point of contention.
It led to the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) putting forward a proposal that teams in the Champions League can register the same number of foreign players for continental games as they are allowed at home. The motion was carried unanimously in Kuala Lumpur and while the decision needs to be ratified by the AFC Executive Committee, that is expected to be a formality.
“While the existing 3 plus 1 quota will continue to apply for the 2022 season, the Committee agreed to remove the 3 plus 1 ceiling on the number of foreign players allowed for the preliminary registration, paving the way for any number of foreign players to be registered based on the domestic registration rules,” the AFC said.
The decision has been welcomed by SAFF president Yasser Al-Mishal.
“The Saudi Arabian proposal will be implemented the next season in the Asian Championship,” Al-Mishal told local television. “This means that Saudi clubs participating in the Champions League will register all seven foreigners in their lists, and on the day of the match, the coach of each team will be able to choose four of them.”
According to officials at the AFC, the Competitions Committee recognised that the increased number of foreign players in certain countries had helped to raise standards and interest. The ruling will be welcomed in leagues such as Japan, India and China, where the domestic quota allowed is higher than the Champions League allowance.
The change will also make the situation easier for those clubs who sometimes struggle keeping foreign players happy when they are unable to be registered for big Asian games.
Due to the existing rule, in this year’s AFC Champions League, Al-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim has had to do without Peruvian international Andre Carrillo, Gustavo Cuellar of Colombia and Italian Sebastian Giovinco.
“The Saudi Football Association’s proposal to increase foreign players in the Asian Championship will ease contractual problems with players,” SAFF General Secretary Ibrahim Al-Kassim said, adding that the move will bring Asia into line with all the major football confederations around the world. “Only the Asian Confederation and the Oceania Confederation set a limit for foreign players, and the top 20 international ranking teams allow their countries an open number of foreign players.”
Saudi officials also hope that the increase will boost their teams’ chances in future continental competitions.
Al-Hilal are preparing to appear in the AFC Champions League final against Pohang Steelers of South Korea on Nov.23 which will be hosted in Riyadh, where victory would bring a record fourth continental championship.