By Tony Attwood
The FA’s view on how leaving the EU will affect football says that “there is widespread consensus that no current players will be deported as the Home Office very rarely imposes legislation retrospectively.” Sadly they give no evidence – perhaps because there is none.
But these are unique times and FA chairman Greg Dyke is endlessly saying to anyone who listens, leaving the EU could open Premier League door for more young English talent. He argues “Should the UK remain a part of the EEA, like Norway, then it will have to continue to accept the freedom of movement principle and little will change for English football.”
The problem is that Norway accepts each and every one of the EU’s rules, without getting to vote on any of them, all in return for a) being able to sell its oil into the EU and b) participating in all the trade deals.
Paul Shapiro, a sports lawyer at Charles Russell Speechly, however has said, “If there are restrictions on free movement then the impact on sport will be more significant,” Shapiro said.
Arsene Wenger, speaking before the vote, said, “To ignore the quality and say let’s remain amongst ourselves doesn’t work, because now they are controlling with the best players in the world.”
Shapiro also predicts a significant impact on various issues in football and notes that (as Untold noted on the morning of the result) State Aid Utd’s offer to buy Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi was worth £31m on Thursday but now will cost them £34m – and they will have to get work permits for players from EU countries.
The Premier League however went into denial mode saying, “The Premier League is a hugely successful sporting competition that has strong domestic and global appeal. This will continue to be the case regardless of the referendum result.” It is hard to see that as anything other than arrogance or desperation. They did after all urge us all to vote “Remain”.
The Guardian however takes a different view saying, “At the last count, there were more than 400 players [without British passports] plying their trade in the top two divisions in England and Scotland, with the vast majority unlikely to pass the stringent work permit requirements introduced by the Football Association in March 2015.”
While the majority of commentators argue that current contracts won’t be affected because it could take two years before the UK leaves the EU, if the EU (already very annoyed by what they call “waiting for the British conservative party to make up its mind”) does rule that the renegotiation of immigration rights by Cameron was itself a trigger to Article 50, they could start the exit arrangements, with or without Britain at the table.
Shapiro’s view on current contracts is that it is very unlikely they “will be affected immediately because it could still be two years before the UK leaves the EU.”
That would mean some very big names who have not played in more than 45% of their country’s maches since June 2014 would be out. Giroud however would be ok. So would Alexis and Ozil and Ospina and Cech.
Chelsea’s loan policy of buying up all the youngsters and then loaning them out overseas would not be legally affected, but the benefit would vanish since it is largely done to ensure they are “homegrown” in the sense of being “registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday”. There has to be eight of these in the “25” squad. Chelsea would lose Fàbregas’ “home grown” listing, so deliberately nurtured by Arsenal. Bellerin would lose it too, and certainly if the rules come in quickly, he would not get a work permit either.
Thus squads will be decimated. Koscielny would be ok, Coquelin not. Nor would Santi Cazorla or Nacho Monreal.
But there is another twist, and it is one Untold highlighted when we covered Barceolna’s child trafficking case. We will only be able to sign foreign players over the age of 18 for as Shapiro says, clubs “would no longer be able to benefit from the exception under the current Fifa regulations given for transfers involving 16 and 17 year old footballers within the EU/EEA.”
Paul Pogba to Manchester United from Le Havre was one such move and Zelalem to Arsenal was another. What is absolutely clear is that Fifa are not going to dish out a UK-specific rule as a result of the decision to leave the European Union.
In fact the estimate is that there are 70 youngsters registered with Premier League clubs at the moment who are under 18.
What Arsenal has so successfully done under Wenger – investing massively in youth – is going to be restricted because that benefit from the EU rule is going.
So the benefit that comes out of this is that maybe there will be a bigger pool of talent available for England. But as we showed in one of our analyses published in 2010 which has occasionally been used by the press (when they feel like it) the number of players who play in their own home country league, has nothing to do with the success that country has on the pitch.
What is so interesting with this point is that those who argue the contrary just say “having more English players in the Premier League will help England” and never look at any evidence at all. Like some occasional readers of Untold they simply use the “evidence of their own eyes”.
What will happen though if quotas are now brought in is that, as Shapiro says, “the price of British players becomes vastly inflated as clubs try to meet the requirements of having enough homegrown representation in their squads. Raheem Sterling cost Manchester City a British record £49m despite only having played two seasons in the Premier League and that premium is likely to increase.”
As the Guardian points out though, it is not just football that is going to be crippled by leaving the EU. County cricket has lots of cricketers from South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Caribbean. That’s going to to too – although I guess it is possible that the UK could invent an open door policy for people from Commonwealth countries. I am not sure that this is what the 32% of the adult UK population who voted to leave the EU had in mind.