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Dutch league boss wants Europe's big clubs to stop hoarding players

By Brian Homewood

ZURICH (Reuters) - Dutch league director Jacco Swart has seen it happen time and time again.

A young player begins to show promise in the Dutch first division (Eredivisie) but instead of progressing and helping his side compete in the Champions League he is snapped up by a big foreign club.

To add insult to injury, the player is immediately loaned to another team - possibly one in the Netherlands. Often, his career never lives up to its early promise.

Swart, the Eredivisie's chief executive, has no objection when a player moves abroad with several years' Eredivisie experience behind him, such as Daley Blind who joined Manchester United at the age of 24.

"He grew too big for the Eredvisie, but that is fine, we are completely proud of an example like him," Swart told Reuters in an interview.

But when a player leaves in his teens, it's a different matter especially when he is not used by his new club.

"Every year our most talented players are leaving our league for bigger leagues at a younger age," said Swart.

"You see players who are 16 and they are not signed for the first team (at the new club)," he said.

"Big clubs, not only in the Premier League, have hundreds of contract players. They grab them from all over the world and they put them on loan everywhere, but only a few of them make it to the first team of these big clubs. It's a business model."

Swart said that if clubs such as Ajax Amsterdam could keep players until they were at least in their early to mid-20s, they could become competitive again at the European level.

"If there were a system where Ajax's youth academy was protected, then they can raise a talented team from their own youth academy which would make them a candidate to be win the Champions League again," he said.

"That is what they did in 1995," he added, referring to the last of the four times Ajax won Europe's top club competition.

DEBATE NEEDED

Swart said he did not have all the answers but there needed to be a debate about the issue, which is part of a wider problem involving the growing gap between a handful of elite clubs and the rest.

One possibility, he said, would be to limit the number of players that professional clubs could have on their books, or limit the number they could loan elsewhere.

"We should at least start a debate," he said. "We have been speaking a lot about good governance but good governance is also about having a set of regulations which allows you to keep the existing system in place.

"We need to think in this direction if we want to restore the competitive balance one way or the other. Look at the Champions League today... you are not going to reschedule your appointments at night to watch group stage matches.

"You want to have excitement, matches which are unpredictable, not a situation where nine times out of 10 you know the result beforehand."

Swart raised eyebrows in September when he said that he could envisage the formation of a worldwide Super League driven exclusively by broadcasters, branding and sponsors.

"I'm not sure we can just sleep quietly and say this is not going to happen," he said. "We have to prepare for this, we need to have an answer. We are naive if we think that this is not in the minds of some clubs or some owners, or investors."

(Writing by Brian Homewood' Editing by Ken Ferris)

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