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How Brexit could make it tougher for Premier League clubs to sign European players

If Britain votes to leave the European Union, the Premier League will be handicapped in the transfer market

Brexit Premier League EPL player contracts
Players such as Dimitri Payet will find it tougher to make a move to the Premier League if Britain leaves the EU

Brexit or “British Exit” has been in the news for quite some time now as Great Britain considers a possible withdrawal from the European Union (EU). The nation will be holding an in-or-out referendum on 23 June and the results could have far-reaching consequences in the country and the rest of the continent and football is just one of the businesses that could be affected, especially the English Premier League

The league, that was formed in 1992, has gained fame and popularity worldwide over the past two decades – especially after the influx of foreign talent. Foreign managers such as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger arrived and changed the landscape by bringing in more foreign players to make the league a competitive one. It has reached a stage where the top eight clubs (from the 2015/16 season) had a foreign manager in charge. 

Now, if Britain votes to leave the EU, clubs will not be able to sign players from countries within the EU unless they get a work permit. Previously, European players from the EU could freely move to Premier League clubs without the need for a work permit. The Brexit would lead to such players now being classified alongside players such as South Americans who require a work permit unless they satisfy certain criteria. 

Does it affect current player contracts?

The simple answer: no. Even if Britain votes to leave the EU, the effects will not be visible immediately until the relevant systems are in place. Players who have already signed multi-year contracts with EPL clubs are safe as the rules did not exist when they were signed. 

According to Sky News, last season saw 432 players from across Europe move to the Premier League and anyone who is still contracted to EPL clubs will not be affected. 

A Brexit will see a change in the immigration rules and EU players will not be allowed to live in the UK, let alone work. Being a footballer is, after all, just another job – albeit an elite one. 

What are the eligibility criteria to sign players if Brexit happens?

If it comes to that, the FIFA rankings of the player’s nation will determine whether he would be allowed to ply his trade in the Premier League or not. To be granted a work permit, a player from one of the top 10 countries in the FIFA rankings  would have had to play at least 30% of the country’s matches in the two years before the application was submitted – similar to the rule that currently exists for non-EU players. 

It becomes even tougher to land players from countries who are lower ranked. Players from countries ranked 11 to 20 should have appeared in 45% of the international matches. Teams ranked 21 to 30 require 60% while it goes up to 75% for countries ranked 31 to 50.

The European Union has 28 countries including the United Kingdom. A Brexit would make it tougher for players from the other 27 countries to move to the UK. 

N'Golo Kante EPL Brexit
N'Golo Kante would never have been able to move if Brexit changed immigration laws

Sports immigration lawyer Maria Patsalos described the situation with an apt example: “A good example at the moment is Dimitri Payet and N'Golo Kante, two fantastic French players who have lit up the Premier League this season. 

“They have not been playing for their French national sides regularly at all. They would not have been given the opportunity to play in the Premier League if we are talking in three or four years' time.”

The new record £5.1 billion television deal has given all 20 clubs plenty of ammunition in the transfer market to sign the best of the best and make it a level playing field. But with only a handful of players to pick from, it might be the top clubs who rise to prominence yet again due to the lure of European football. 

Does the Brexit have any benefits for the Premier League?

Yes and no, depending on how you look at the development of football in the UK. While the focus could shift to local and homegrown talent, the worry is that the level of competition would not be as high as it was with an influx of foreign talent from different football cultures.

Wenger himself, a champion of signing foreign youngsters and converting them to homegrown players, has questioned the logic. “Will the European players be considered as they are now? Will the French be considered like South American players?

“That would completely re-question the influx of foreign players. Will England go that way? If they did, that would leave the Premier League with some questions.”

Leaving the EU would see not only English football but also Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish football suffer. It creates an air of uncertainty around the clubs and leagues while the rest of European football moves on with the freedom to sign players from a bigger pool in the transfer market.

Academy players Brexit
Brexit will force clubs to look at local talent without the benefit of signing young foreign players to develop

Local players may be in more demand as the focus shifts to bringing through British youth talents. But at what cost? 

The main reason the Premier League saw a rise in popularity was due to the arrival of foreign talent (and knowledge) that saw an evolution in tactics and an upgrade in the overall level of footballers’ skills. It thereby created a stage for the best of the best to fight it out over nine months to give a product that has been consumed by anyone with a television remote. 

The worry is that without such players and managers in the league, the EPL will lose its sheen and that it will be unable to entice viewers (especially the overseas audience) and, more importantly, sponsors. The Brexit is a double-edged sword in this regard.


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