It has been the dominating issue, when it comes to European policy over the last years: Brexit. Since the people of the United Kingdom have voted “leave” in a nationwide referendum in June 2016, the European Union has seen chaotic discussions between the British government and the British Parliament and there is still no concrete plan or treaty with the EU, how relations will continue in the fields of trade and free movement.
This lack of clarity leaves several industries all over Europe and the UK in uncertainty about their future. The football industry, for instance, could face serious restrictions due to the limited mobility between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This could seriously threaten the global supremacy of the Premier League, the British football league.
However, the same applies for other fields like the entertainment bindustry with theatres, orchestras and other sports. The Brexit threatens the existence of all of them.
When it comes to the free movement of international transfers, it is almost certain that new players will have to apply for a work permit. But how does that work and which players will get this permit?
Free movement and work permit
The signing of international players and coaches is an essential contribution to the global dominance of the British football. According to Statista, transfer expenses of the Premier League in total surpassed 1.4 billion euros this season and the percentage of foreign players in the League lays around 62.2%. European stars like Kevin de Bruyne, Virgil van Dijk and Kai Havertz are the faces of the Premier League and guarantee the international appeal of the League far beyond the borders of the United Kingdom.
However, Brexit may put an end to this. New players from Europe can no longer enter the Premier League without a work permit. This permit is offered to players, depending on their home country and on the number of appearances, they already made for their national team. The lower the National team is ranked, the more appearances the player has to have.
Getting this permit will not be a problem for well known players, signed for big prices by the biggest clubs, but smaller clubs at the bottom of the Premier League and in lower leagues will not be able to sign players from abroad anymore. “Young and unknown players from the EU are unlikely to be able to qualify for a work permit and so, clubs here will be limited in the players they recruit”, says Andrew Osborne, a lawyer specializing in immigration law at Lewis Silkin LLP, a London-based law firm. “If EU players have to meet current work permit requirements, then there will be a significant number that cannot qualify to play in England.”
The Premier League and the football clubs are demanding a special immigration policy from the government and the Football Association to continue signing players from abroad. However, Andrew Osborne does not think that this is realistic: “Giving the clubs the freedom to sign who they want, regardless of experience and pedigree, would be completely out of line with the rest of the country’s immigration process. No other industry gets that leeway.”
Signing of young talent
Another issue occurs when signing players that are under the age of 18. Under European law it is possible to sign young players if they are older than 16, but this does not longer apply for the Premier League.
“Young players will not be able to move from the EU to English clubs under the age of 18 years and so clubs here will not have access to a significant pool of talent”, says Andrew Osborne.
This, in his opinion, may have serious consequences, also for clubs in lower leagues: “It will leave Premier League squads short of players and so clubs will buy and poach English players from clubs further down the pyramid. Potentially this will lower the quality of squads in the lower Leagues.”
One of the reasons, the Football Association and the government are not keen on allowing the unrestricted signing of new players is the chance to push young British talent. The restrictions of foreign players and a possible quota for homegrown players would force the clubs to shift their attention away from the international market and more to the talent that already is in the country. This would benefit the English National team and build a solid foundation of young players for years to come.
With the Brexit and the future relations to the European Union still very much uncertain, the Premier League has to prepare for serious limitations when it comes to free movement and the signing of new young talent. Will these restrictions threaten the dominant position of the League in European football? Probably not. Will the restrictions enhance the ongoing effect of the rich-get-richer and widen the gap between the top clubs and the rest of the League? Probably. Will the Brexit have serious and long-lasting effects on the face of football as we know it? Definitely!