“We love you EU, we do!” – the unintended consequences of Brexit on the best league in the world.
The Premier League is the best league in the world. With the exception of the majestic Lionel Messi, the greatest players in world football all… Read more
The Premier League is the best league in the world. With the exception of the majestic Lionel Messi, the greatest players in world football all dream of playing in the top division of English & Welsh football at some stage in their career. In financial terms, the Premier League is a money-spinning machine, generating nearly £5bn in revenue over the 2017-2018 season.
Following the end of the Brexit transition period (31 December 2020), players from EU member states will be treated the same as non-EU players.
Obtaining a work permit
To obtain a work permit, players must be granted a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA. Provided a player has participated in a sufficient proportion of their international team’s fixtures over the two years prior to the application, they may automatically qualify for a GBE.
The ‘sufficient’ proportion of international fixtures works on a sliding scale, designed to make it easier to automatically qualify for a GBE where players come from a more well established and higher performing footballing nation. To demonstrate this, let’s look at the example of players from Brazil and Ghana (ranked 3rd and 47th in the world respectively).
- A Brazilian player would only need to have participated in 30% or more of Brazil’s international fixtures over the past two years in order to qualify.
- Whereas if a Premier League club was looking so sign a Ghanaian international, the player would have to have been involved in more than 75% of the country’s fixtures during the two-year period.
Where a player does not automatically qualify for a GBE, players, or their clubs, can apply to the Exceptions Panel. In such cases, it must be argued that despite the player’s lack of international experience, their footballing abilities, experience overall (including club level), transfer fees, and wages, mean that the player should be granted a GBE.
Once the transition period comes to an end, these rules will apply equally to players from EU countries. In other words, if a Premier League club wanted to sign the next Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal, he also would need to have played more than 30% of Portugal’s international fixtures during the two-year period.
This places English clubs at a great disadvantage. It is highly unlikely that, for example, Manchester United would be capable of unearthing and signing such a talent before the rival clubs in continental Europe who are not under the same restriction.
Home grown quotas
At present, there is a limit of 17 non-home grown players in each Premier League squad (out of a total 25). For a player to qualify as ‘home grown’, they must have been registered with a club (or clubs) affiliated to the FA, or the Football Association of Wales, for at least three seasons (or 36 months) before his 21st birthday.
In 2018, the FA stated their intention to reduce the allowance of non-home grown players from 17 to 12. At present, only 6 of the 20 Premier League squads would fall within this allowance, and clubs would therefore be obliged to restructure their squads to fall within the quota. It goes without saying that this would result in a talent drain from the league, whether it is caused by a shift in non-home grown player quotas or by making it more difficult to sign foreign players in the future.
Although it may be difficult to pity a state-sponsored oil monolith club sitting in second place in the Premier League, it might be considered inequitable if clubs were forced to offload their assets at a cut-price to their Spanish and German counterparts due to a change in quota level.
Brexit may also impact on the ability to recruit European players under the age of 18 (and therefore for such players to gain ‘home grown’ status). At present, players aged 16 – 18 are permitted to make international transfers within EU member states, and to be considered home grown for the purposes of the regulations. Examples of such players include Manchester United’s World Cup winning midfielder, Paul Pogba, and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin, who play for the French and Spanish (respectively) national teams. Although FIFA have reassured British football clubs that this will continue to be the case until the end of the Brexit transition period, the likelihood is that this will cease to be the case from the start of 2021.
The FA appear to believe that more English players in the Premier League will yield greater success at international level. In the inaugural season of the Premier League (’92-’93), English players started 70% of the fixtures across all teams. By the 2018-19 season this figure had dropped to just 33%.
The fact that over this period the England national team has fluctuated between 11th (1993) and 4th (2019) in the FIFA world rankings would appear to disprove this belief.
British footballers playing overseas
There have traditionally been many more examples of successful foreign footballers plying their trade in the UK, rather than British footballers succeeding overseas. There has, however, been a slight increase in British footballers moving abroad in recent years. High profile examples include Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund).
The increased administrative burden on overseas clubs of recruiting British players post-Brexit could mean that players like Gareth Bale are no longer an attractive option. Undoubtedly in Bale’s case, if his dream move to Real Madrid had not materialised, and as result he remained at Tottenham for the past 7 years, his career would have been far less fruitful.
Lower league impact
The effect of the restrictions on lower league (Championship, League One, and League Two) clubs will be felt perhaps even more strongly to begin with. Due to the calibre of the clubs, the players whom they may wish to recruit will typically be of a lower standard, and are therefore much less likely to be playing regularly for their country, or if they are, they are playing for a team which is ranked lower down the FIFA world rankings and therefore the player will be required to play in a greater proportion of the national team fixtures.
Premier League clubs often recruit players from clubs playing in these leagues. Perhaps because they wanted to wait and see how a player performed in English football before shelling out a large transfer fee, or perhaps because the player didn’t initially look like he would develop into the player that they later turned out to be. Either way, the fact that these clubs may struggle to recruit foreign talent could deprive the Premier League of the next big thing. Not only this, but in present day football where transfer fees have risen to such an exorbitant degree, it deprives the lesser teams of a potentially vital revenue stream.
The scouting budget at lower league clubs will inherently be less than that of the average Premier League club, and therefore scouting within the EU has previously made greater fiscal sense. This will continue to be the case, however it is clear that this restriction will make life more difficult for these clubs, where the purse strings are almost incomparably tighter than their Premier League counterparts.
Since the Premier League’s inception, the sums of money coming from TV networks such as Sky and BT has sky rocketed (from £304m for seasons 92/93 – 96/97 to over £5bn for seasons 16/17 – 18/19).
If player quality and international diversity decrease, and as a result the international appeal of the league diminishes, broadcasters are unlikely to continue with the same level of financial commitment to the league which could have a knock-on effect on the entire economy surrounding football.
The Premier League clubs are set to face some significant challenges in the years ahead. The interaction between the process for non-automatic GBE candidates and a lowering of the quota for non-home grown players has the potential to yield a multiplying effect on the difficulty with signing European players. If there are fewer foreign players in the league, the bar may be set higher for those who looking to make the cut. Not only this, but the fact that transfer fees and wages feed into the GBE assessment could also lead to further inflation in the transfer market.
Wage and transfer fee inflation, combined with potential downward pressure from TV revenues, and difficulty recruiting the right talent, could change the landscape, and the success, of the league for a sustained period. From a footballing perspective, the situation the league finds itself in appears to be that of a team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. From a Brexit perspective, now that we are approaching injury time, British football fans are all hoping to avoid conceding a last minute own-goal.
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Matthew Tilley is a compliance paralegal
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