The Premier League is becoming increasingly concerned about the impact Brexit will have on clubs’ ability to sign European players.
With just over six months remaining until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the English top-flight is still waiting for clarification on how it will be affected in the transfer market.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the Premier League is calling on the Government to ensure there are no restrictions placed on signing foreign players amid fears for the worldwide popularity of English football.
During talks with the Government and the Football Association, the Premier League called for football to be exempt from any new rules that limit access for European workers after Brexit.
The fear is that the current work permit restrictions on players from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be extended to EEA countries as well.
This means incoming players to the Premier League would have to be senior internationals or command a considerable transfer fee to be allowed to work in the UK.
While this would likely mean business as usual for the Premier League’s leading clubs, it could adversely affect lesser clubs wanting to bring in European players.
Research conducted by data scientists Laurie Shaw of Harvard University and quoted by the Daily Telegraph suggests that 591 of the 1,022 signings from EEA countries made during the Premier League era would not have gained a work permit.
European Import XI
A team of current or former Premier League players who would have been denied a work permit under tighter regulations
Simon Mignolet (Sunderland, 2010) – had not played an international match for Belgium when he first came for the Premier League, meaning he would not have been granted a work permit.
Gael Clichy (Arsenal, 2003) – defender had only played a few times for French club Cannes before Arsenal signed him.
Gerard Pique (Man United, 2004) – was only 17 when United signed him from Barcelona so a permit would not have been granted as he was under 18.
Hector Bellerin (Arsenal, 2011) – was only 16 when signed from Barcelona.
Marcos Alonso (Bolton, 2010) – the Spaniard was uncapped when he signed for Bolton, so wouldn’t have been classed as experienced international.
N’Golo Kante (Leicester, 2015) – had not played for France when he arrived at Leicester from Caen in £5.6m move.
Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal, 2003) – was 16 when he signed for the Gunners from Barcelona and would therefore be too young.
Paul Pogba (Man United, 2009) – just 16 when he came to United from French club Le Havre.
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester, 2014) – the Algerian was able to join Leicester from Le Havre because he holds a French passport. This exemption will be stopped.
Nicolas Anelka (Arsenal, 1997) – was under 18 when he arrived at Highbury.
Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea, 1996) – striker had not played for the Italy national team for four years when he signed. Under non-European work permit rules, you have to play in 75 per cent of your country’s internationals over the past two years.
They include Cesc Fabregas, formerly of Arsenal and now at Chelsea; French passport holder Riyad Mahrez, who joined Manchester City from Leicester City this summer; and the Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante.
The Premier League has already resigned itself to the fact clubs will no longer be able to sign European players under the age of 18.
That means that Manchester United would not have been able to acquire Paul Pogba and Gerard Pique as teenagers, while Arsenal would not have been able to sign Fabregas from Barcelona.
Another concern of the league is that quotas for homegrown players will be introduced to ensure young English players are able to develop and flourish at the highest level.
It comes after England manager Gareth Southgate said the pool of players from which he can select his squads is becoming ‘smaller and smaller.’
At the moment, all clubs must have eight homegrown players in their squads of 25, a proportion the FA is keen to increase.
Foreign players currently count as homegrown if they have spent three years in an English club’s academy before the age of 21.
However, restrictions on signing European players before the age of 18 could make this more difficult.
A spokesperson for the Premier League said: ‘Like many other organisations dependent on a combination of domestic and international talent, we are waiting to better understand what the political and regulatory landscape will be after the UK leaves the European Union.
‘Access to talented footballers from across Europe has played a key part in the growth of the Premier League. It is vital that our clubs can continue to acquire European players with the freedom currently.’
Q&A on the potential changes
Can Premier League clubs currently sign European players without a work permit?
Yes. Freedom of movement provisions mean players from countries inside the European Union and/or the European Economic Area (EEA) can take up employment in the United Kingdom and play in the Premier League without a permit.
What about players from outside the EEA?
Players from outside EEA countries need permission to work in the United Kingdom and their prospective clubs need to apply for a permit.
The Home Office operates a points-based system with various criteria and clubs must apply to the Football Association for a ‘Governing Body Endorsement’ in order to sign such players.
The main one is that players must have played in a minimum percentage of their country’s international matches over the previous two years, as determined by that country’s FIFA world ranking.
If the player doesn’t automatically meet the criteria, the club can request an FA Exceptions Panel to grant a work permit based on the player’s experience and value.
How will Brexit alter this?
There is the possibility that the current regulations for players from outside the EEA will be extended to those European countries after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
This would mean Premier League clubs are limited in the number of European players they can sign, essentially to those who are established internationals or of significant transfer value.
What would the impact be on clubs?
For the leading Premier League clubs who spend large sums of money on established international players in each transfer window anyway, this won’t change a great deal.
They will still be able to secure work permits quickly for the majority of their signings.
But clubs further down the table without their financial muscle may struggle to obtain work permits for European players if they are not current internationals.
How will this impact on homegrown players?
At the moment, all clubs must have eight homegrown players in their registered 25-man squad.
A homegrown player isn’t dependent on nationality or age, just a player who has been registered with the club for three seasons before his 21st birthday.
It is likely that, post-Brexit, Premier League clubs will not be able to sign European players under the age of 18, making it difficult to meet the homegrown criteria.
So will this benefit UK talent?
It should offer greater opportunities for UK players to establish themselves in the Premier League if they don’t have to compete for places against their European colleagues. But that remains to be see.