How is Brexit impacting on the transfer market

Darryl Rigby – Immigration Advice Service     

Last month was undoubtedly the slowest January transfer window on record. With clubs still reeling from the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19, many simply cannot afford to recruit new players in these dark and uncertain times.

The Gunners were actually one of the Premier League’s busiest clubs in January, although aside from a couple of loan signings the majority of the transfer business focused on getting high-earning players out.

Elsewhere, though, there was little to no action – at least with players coming in – with the majority of the top flight’s clubs choosing to stick with what they’ve got rather than splashing the cash on new recruits. Collectively the entire Premier League made a total of just 26 signings – just over half the number of deals completed in January of last year.

Given the massive financial black hole caused by lost ticket sales, an uneventful mid-season window was unsurprising. But along with the financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic, aside from our clubs adopting a frugal approach, is there another reason for a lack of movement in the transfer market? 

While we were all busy worrying about the impact Brexit would have on migration, visa applications and the fishing industry, few of us stopped to consider the effect leaving the European Union might have on our favourite football clubs’ ability to purchase players from the continent. 

One man who didn’t fully appreciate the potential damage Brexit could do to his transfer business was West Brom manager Sam Allardyce, although he most certainly does now. The former Bolton and England manager has been a staunch opponent of the European Union over the years, declaring his stance on the Brexit debate when asked by reporters how he’d voted in the referendum.

“I am out,” Allardyce told the Sun back in 2018. “My feeling is that the European Union isn’t doing the United Kingdom any favours.”

But after getting exactly what he voted for, Allardyce is now feeling the repercussions of our exit from the EU, with tighter regulation scuppering his January transfer plans.

“I have found three players already who were capable of coming here and were not allowed,” he said last month. “It’s a shame. Due to new regulations in terms of the permit they were unable to come to this country, whereas previously they would have done. I have to look at that and think ‘can he qualify?’”

So, it’s clear our withdrawal from the EU and the subsequent changes to regulation has had a damaging impact on Allardyce’s transfer strategy, and it’s safe to assume that’s the case for all of the UK’s clubs moving forward. Who’d have guessed leaving the trading bloc you’ve been a member of for almost 50 years would create more red tape and make signings players more difficult? Not Big Sam, clearly!                  

New rules stipulate that any signings are subject to the player being granted a work permit, while U-18 international players are banned all together. This has meant many signings that would have been possible before are no longer allowed, including our very own purchase of then-16-year-old Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona, which would no longer be permitted.

But while tighter regulation threatens to upset the transfer plans of our managers and prevent the signing of European wonderkids, this cloud may well have a silver lining. With clubs now unable to sign academy-age European imports, this should free up some space further down the development stage, meaning our homegrown talent could now be afforded more of an opportunity with less competition from abroad. 

Eventually, this should prove beneficial to our national teams, with young English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish players given more of a chance to play at grassroots level which should lead to the cultivation of better homegrown talent and improve our chances at international tournaments. 

In addition to young British players getting more of a look-in, fans who enjoy watching skilful and technically gifted players might be in for a treat, too, as an influx of signings from Latin America is now expected. 

The likes of Brazil and Argentina – hotbeds of easy-on-the-eye talent – already have a strong contingent in the Premier League with the likes of Roberto Firmino, Sergio Aguero and our very own David Luiz, and UK football fans might be about to see a lot more of the free-flowing South American style with clubs forced to look elsewhere now that purchasing players from the continent has become more problematic.

Considering the UK only formally left the EU last month, it’s still early days and the full impact Brexit will have on the transfer dealings of British clubs isn’t yet fully understood. But with tighter rules and regulation in place which promises to put a stop to a number of transfers that were previously possible, it’s clear there’ll be at least some repercussions. How severe they might be remains to be seen.