As with almost any industry, Brexit is set to have a major impact on football in the United Kingdom. Sweeping changes are coming in player recruitment and player eligibility, and the new regulations set to come into force when the UK finally leaves the European Union at the end of December 2020 have big implications for football clubs, players, chairmen and sporting directors up and down the land.
In this post let’s take a look at some of the key changes and how they will impact the game.
What are the new Brexit rules in a nutshell?
It’s a bit of a strange situation because while on the surface you might look at the principles of Brexit and think it would result in the restriction of foreign players coming to play in England, in effect the Football Association’s new regulations are almost like shaking up a snow globe and changing who qualifies to play in English football going forward and who does not. The criteria for qualification has been dramatically changed with repercussions on recruitment for all countries.
–The main headline: Under FIFA’s rules, the UK’s exit from the European Union will mean that, effective from January 1st 2021, clubs will no longer be able to sign players from overseas until they are 18. Currently, clubs within the EU can sign players from other EU countries from the age of 16 and so English clubs will no longer be able to act similarly. Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin and others are good examples of players recruited before they turned 18 who would no longer be allowed to make such a move.
-In the Premier League, the number of overseas Under-21 players a club can sign will be limited to three in the January transfer window and six per season thereafter. According to the FA, ‘This enables the recruitment of the best players from around the world to train and play together with homegrown talent.’ Debatable, but you can see the argument.
-A new points based system has been launched which will require players to acquire a minimum 15 points on a scale of different criteria to gain a Governing Body Endorsement to play in the Premier League or EFL. This points system will apply to players if they do not qualify for an automatic pass for a GBE. Automatic passes will be awarded based on international appearances and the number of minutes played for countries ranked in FIFA’s top 50.
-The points based system will now rank leagues according to different bands, with more points available for players the higher the Band of the league in which they play. So where previously, any EU player could come to England under free movement and sign for any Premier League or EFL club, from now on the league in which they are coming from will have a significant deciding factor on their eligibility for a GBE to play in England. The different Bands are as follows:
Band 1 = Europe’s big 5 leagues (Premier League, German Bundesliga, France Ligue 1, Spain La Liga, Italy Serie A)
Band 2 = Portugal, Dutch Eredivisie, Belgium, Turkey, English Championship
Band 3 = Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Scottish Premiership
Band 4 = Czech Republic, Croatia, Switzerland, Spain Segunda, Bundesliga II, Ukraine, Greece, Colombia, MLS, Austria, France Ligue 2
Band 5 = Serbia, Denmark, Poland, Slovenia, Chile, Uruguay, China
Band 6 = all other leagues
Example: A senior player (21 or over) who has played 25% of minutes in the Belgian top league during the time period required will accrue more points towards the 15 needed for a GBE than an equivalent player with the same minutes in the Danish league.
-While 15 is the qualification threshold, 10-14 points means a club can request an Exceptions Panel hearing to decide if a player will receive and endorsement (at a cost of £ 5,000 + VAT).
-New rules around youth players (under 21) assign points based on appearance in youth internationals and youth international tournaments or qualifiers. The full criteria and number of points can be found on the FA website.
-Republic of Ireland = Ireland is currently a gray area awaiting clarification from FIFA due to the Common Travel Area (CTA) – an agreement between the Irish and British governments that pre-dates the European Union, and is thus not dependent on it. The CTA allows for the free movement of people between Ireland and Britain, and enshrines rights related to employment, healthcare, and education.
– Cesc Fàbregas Soler (@ cesc4official) October 28, 2020
What does this mean in practice?
-No more Riyad Mahrez, Anthony Knockaerts or Brunos… Non-international players from nations outside the top 50 FIFA rankings will find it much harder if not impossible to get a GBE to play in England. This would have all but ruled out a player like Riyad Mahrezfor example, who moved to Leicester City in the Championship from Le Havre in France’s Ligue 2 in 2014. Brighton and Hove Albion’s popular player Bruno would be another example of a player who would not have qualified.
-Note: Today roughly 15% of the Championship is made of non-UK or Irish players. Players like Bryan Mbuemo and Saman Ghoddos at Brentford or Leo Ostigard at Coventry City may now not have qualified to play in England.
Example: Emiliano Buendia – Band 4 (signed from Getafe in Spain’s Segunda). If he played 100% of the team’s minutes this give him 6pts. If his club had won the league this gives an extra 3pts. If he had won some youth or international caps for Spain / Argentina during the registration period this would earn him a few extra points. Ultimately, though, today Buendia would have struggled to meet the 15 point threshold to get a GBE to sign for Norwich City.
-The new rules impact coaches as well as players. Managers from outside the UK will be similarly affected with new criteria for eligibility and tier and points based systems to take coaching or management roles.
What are the opportunities for clubs going forwards?
Clubs, directors, heads of recruitment and anybody working in football now will currently be poring through these new regulations, calculator in hand, to try and assess the various points criteria and opportunities that change will bring.
-There has been talk, for example, of partner clubs to circumvent some of the regulations, similar to how Manchester City and the City Football Group now operate with satellite clubs in different countries, eg Troyes in France or Lommel in Belgium. This is an avenue you imagine many clubs will now consider to allow them to still have access to top young players from abroad. Clubs will need to establish new alliances and relationships to adapt accordingly and stay ahead of the game.
-Given the elevation of the Copa LibertadoresSouth America’s equivalent to the UEFA Champions League, to a high level Band 1 Continental Competition, expect to see perhaps more focus on, scouting in and recruitment from South America from Premier League or even EFL clubs going forward. A player that has played in 90% of minutes in the Copa Libertadores during the period required would now receive 10 points towards a GBE, for example, which is a major step towards eligibility to play in England. Previously, non-EU player recruitment was a lot more difficult due to the work permit system.
-With the new Brexit rules, added to the salary caps in the Football League, the value of English academy talent is now sure to increase by a significant margin. At present, youth players under 21 do not count towards the salary cap. Add this to the new Brexit regulations that will inevitably restrict the talent pool available to EFL clubs, and you quickly realize that British academy players under 21 will now have real value. This could have big implications for Scottish football and Scottish young players also.
This is merely a brief overview of the new rules around Brexit that will impact English football and what changes to expect. It is a huge topic with a number of nuances and all sorts of detailed and comprehensive calculations required to determine player eligibility. Hopefully this piece gives a good overview and insight to the new regulations.
In my work as a football consultant I am part of a team that offers solutions, consultancy and guidance around Brexit for clubs, heads of recruitment, chairmen or directors looking to gain an inside track and an edge on the competition. If you are working in football and would like to learn more or work together, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @JFfutbolvia LinkedIn or click the following link to learn more and contact us.
Words: Jonathan Fadugba | Main image credit: Aksym Yemelyanov / Stock.Adobe.com