By the end of the current football season, Britain will be outside the European Union. How exactly will this affect football transfer is still largely unknown, but it is a question many general managers are desperate to find an answer to.
For decades, Premier League has been one of the top markets for football players. Will it remain so in post-Brexit Britain? Will it deter foreign players from coming over and can that be used as an opportunity to develop domestic players instead?
Currently, players from the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) are allowed to live and play in the United Kingdom due to the freedom of movement rules. Those from other countries must seek a work permit before being able to play for the UK clubs.
Acquiring a work permit can be a daunting task, as only the top players will be given one. Football association must give Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) and will only issue those to players that have played a certain percentage of games for their national teams.
If, after Brexit, the same rules are applied to all players, it would mean that many players won’t be able to play in Britain, for instance, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez.
According to Stoke City chairman Peter Coates, such rules “would be very difficult to meet for a lot of clubs”. Brexit would definitely have a negative impact on football, forcing the clubs to compete for the same talents, hugely increasing cost and cutting the less rich teams from the football market.
That is why Premier League is trying to avoid those rules applying to the European players after Brexit.
“We’re all keen to get something that works pretty much as the way it does now but we can’t be confident about it,” said Coates, who was a staunch supporter of the Remain campaign before the referendum.
Stokes counterpart from Crystal Palace Steve Parish has a somewhat different opinion on the matter, claiming that EU “acts as a blocking area to talent from the rest of the world”.
“We’ve turned to the EU for most of our players and the bar is set very high for work permits outside of the EU,” Parish said. “We also spend an enormous amount more on transfers with the European leagues than they spend generally and certainly with us.”
If a player fails to qualify for a work permit, there are other ways club can sign him. It can request that FA’s Exceptions Panel issue an exception. These exceptions are awarded based on a point system, which values transfer fees and participation in high-ranking competitions, like the Champions League.
That would allow players like Alexandre Lacazette to play in Britain, thanks to the 45 million transfer from Lyon to Arsenal, despite having only 11 appearances for the French national squad.
Burnley chairman Mike Garlick believes that such a system would only “make the widening inequality gap in the Premier League even worse.”
“The big clubs might be less affected because they tend to buy at the top end, the very established best players and they meet the criteria, but we don’t know,” said Coates.
Parish disagrees with that assessment, claiming that it would make signing young players from other countries easier for smaller teams.
“For us to sign a 19-year-old hot prospect from Peru is almost impossible so we are driven towards the EU market,” he said. “If we had access to global talent it would reduce our costs of acquisition of talent and improve the quality of talent we can get.”
Another aspect that worries clubs is that after Brexit it would be impossible to sign players who are under 18 from other countries. These transfers are banned by FIFA, but players from the European Union and European Economic Area are exempt from that rule.
“If you have a talented young player that you want then you could find it very difficult to get them,” said Coates.
Parish feels that the rule can bring some positive changes, allowing more home-grown players to signed by the British clubs.
“In a post-Brexit world, we could say what the quotas are for British footballers,” he said. “We can go back to the FIFA rule and that’ll give much bigger opportunities to home-grown footballers and access to the national teams.”
At the moment, Premier League clubs must have eight home-grown players in their 25-man squads. That doesn’t necessarily mean those players must be British, as any player who has spent three seasons in a club before his 21st birthday qualifies, like Cesc Fabregas, who was counted as Arsenal home-grown player, despite the fact that he was Spanish.
Although Parish’s claim about more playing time for domestic players may be correct, the current system has yielded fantastic results so far, with British Under-20 and U17 sides as world champions and the A team reaching semi-finals in the World Cup. Coates says that is a direct result of how the high training standards “raised the standard of English players at every level.”
“There is reason to be optimistic – we’ve made good strides and we should concentrate on that, keep doing that and the young talent will keep coming through and thrive,” he said.
Parish hopes for a best-case scenario, where Premier League would remain interesting to European and domestic players, while at the same time increasing its access to international markets.
“We can improve the international appeal of the league – which is almost already unassailable – and then with the other eight players in the squad, whatever we decided to do, we can really look at those as a way of nurturing British talent,” he said.
Coates says that Brexit uncertainty is already causing troubles for managers trying to sign new players. Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino agrees, claiming that Brexit is the reason he didn’t sign any players this summer. He added that weakening of the pound has forced clubs to pay players more, in order to compensate.
Parish believes that prices will drop after Brexit since clubs will have access to more players from around the world.
When we open up to talent from all over the world, we’ll gain access to thousands of more players and that will drive down the cost of the acquisition of talent and could drive down wages,” he claims.
Parish does share other club bosses’ concerns that the worst thing that could happen would be if the country is “trapped somewhere in between”, left with EU rules for all players and unable to create new ones.