The Union of North African Football Federations (UNAF) recently proposed a change in transfer regulations among member nations that has prompted a mixed reaction.
The UNAF meeting in Tunisia on 18 August suggested that players from the five members (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) are no longer seen as foreigners.
Another proposal was to back any bid by any of the UNAF members to host the 2030 World Cup.
Also discussed was the swapping of match officials among the leagues for some of the major matches.
The BBC’s reporters in North Africa have been gauging reaction to the idea of the free movement of players among members, which will need to ratified by individual associations.
UNAF’s proposal would signal a big change in policy for the Algerian Football Federation (FAF), which as recently as the 2016-2017 season implemented a ban on foreign players.
At the time, the justification for the ruling was due to “financial difficulties, inability to obtain foreign currency to pay players legally, compensation and solidarity.”
The current regulations for the Algerian football league are that first division clubs can sign a maximum of two foreign players, who have played a minimum of two years with their nation’s under-20, under-23 or senior national teams.
FAF’s secretary general, Mohamed Saad, believes the free trade recommendation is ‘realistic’ and ‘doable’.
However Algerian agent Mustapha Maza had a stark warning for the federation despite admitting the idea is a good one for the players.
“I think there will be an exodus, because Algerians are not as well paid as Moroccans or Tunisians,” Maza told BBC Sport.
“The Tunisian league especially is a springboard to Europe – Esperance, Etoile and Sfax are clubs that sell their players to European clubs.”
The suggestion would also be a significant change for Tunisian football which has banned overseas players in the second division since 2015.
For top-flight teams there are some very specific limitations: no foreign goalkeepers are allowed and teams can sign a maximum of three players who made at least national team appearances or ten games at under-19 level.
Head of the Tunisian Football league, Moez Bouraoui, says that these restrictions are put in place to ensure that “all teams have equal chances.”
He also was very welcoming of the idea.
“This will be very beneficial to clubs and will significantly help our teams in African competitions,” he told BBC Sport.
“This diversity will improve the quality of Tunisian football.”
Moroccan football is unlikely to follow the UNAF’s proposal as just last year the federation tightened its control over the signing of players from abroad.
A player coming from the rest of Africa must have played 10 at least international games within the last 3 years.
Players from South America or Europe must present a resume where they show they have played for two years in a professional league, in the last six campaigns.
Hassan El Filali, head of the players status and transfer commission at the Morocco Football Federation says it will be discussing the idea.
“It looks interesting, but we will have to speak about it during the next reunion of the executive bureau,”
Many clubs would welcome the changes as they have been pushing for an amendment to the current restriction over the the last 12 months.
However the federation has not been swayed arguing that the current format is the best way to encourage young footballers and encourage coaches and presidents to put more trust in home-grown youngsters.
The current regulations in Egypt were put in place in August 2017 with clubs able to sign four foreign players, an increase from the three previously permitted.
In addition clubs can also sign a maximum of two further players from Syria or Palestine.
Yehia Ali the agent that oversaw Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah’s move from Swiss club Basel to English Premier League side Chelsea in 2014 has mixed views on the proposal.
“In my opinion this decision will not be useful for the football in my country (Egypt), but personally for me as agent it will be excellent,” he told BBC Sport.
“With this decision, the clubs will hire more and more players from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, the teams will not depend on the local players and that will not be good for the national team.
“I am not sure that the EFA or the clubs will accept the idea.
Libya currently allow a maximum of three overseas players per team but none of them can be a goalkeeper.
A Libya Football Association spokesperson simply told BBC Sport “the matter will be discussed in the next general assembly.”
Given the unstable political situation in Libya at the moment players would almost certainly welcome the free movement of players in order to improve their chances of playing elswhere. BBC.