THE introduction of transfer windows could spell disaster for Wales's three Football League clubs and place them on an uneven playing field with their rivals.
Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham would be restricted in buying from or selling to clubs outside Wales under controversial new proposals being implemented by Fifa.
The same would apply to the three non-league sides playing in the English pyramid - Dr Martens League clubs Newport County and Merthyr Tydfil and Unibond League outfit Colwyn Bay.
Football's world governing body want to introduce a universal transfer window system which would bring an end to all transfer activity on August 31. The window would open again on January 1, 2003, for a month, then close until the end of the season.
Concerned at the harm this could do to its member clubs - many still struggling to come to terms with the collapse of ITV Digital - the Football League was last night "hopeful" that the Football Association will secure a dispensation from Fifa to allow transfer activity to take place as normal.
But The Western Mail understands the dispensation would only apply to domestic transfers, meaning Welsh sides - who must receive international clearance each time they sign players from England, Northern Ireland or Scotland - would be blocked from recruiting from outside Wales for most of the season.
"Understandably, Football League clubs, many of whom need to sell players throughout the season just to survive, are very concerned about the impact of transfer windows," said Mark Evans, registrations secretary at the Football Association of Wales.
"There is some hope that dispensation will be granted. However, this would leave Welsh clubs in a worse position because of the rules governing international transfers.
"To give an example, you could see a York City player moving to Bristol Rovers but he wouldn't be able to join Cardiff because he would be moving to a different country."
The policy of trimming back playing squads may have to be reversed if transfer windows are introduced.
Aware that there would be four months during which they could not sign players, managers are already contemplating whether to bolster their squads before August 31 to insure against injuries and suspensions.
However, the biggest concerns among the Welsh clubs is they would be prevented from cashing in on their assets for most of the season and would be at a disadvantage to English teams.
"The Welsh clubs should be extremely worried about the situation," said Wrexham vice-chairman David Rhodes. "The Welsh FA must get together with the FA to try to find a way round this. We must be on a level playing field with Football League clubs in England."
Swansea City player-coach Nick Cusack - fortunate to have already strengthened his squad with eight new faces - said the move would have a "massive" effect on Wales's three Nationwide League clubs.
"It concerns me that if the Football League wins dispensation, English clubs will be free to sign players from each other all season while we will be restricted to two windows," he said.
"Clubs who cannot afford to strengthen before August 31 will have to gamble on having enough players to see them through to January 1."
The FAW said yesterday it would meet the FA "as and when" to try to find a solution. "We need to find a way round the international transfer system," said Evans.
"We have contacted all six Welsh clubs who play in England to explain the situation and are meeting them this week to discuss their worries."