This time last year the UK voted to leave the European Union to spark a tumultuous political 12 months for the country. We are still no closer to finding out what our fate will be, however I felt it prudent to write something one year on.
The negotiations which have been taking place in Brussels this week between the British government and the EU have left me to consider, does football have a place in all of this? To simply ignore the effect of Brexit on the English game would be tactless, but consider this, if every EU player in the Premier League applied for a work permit tomorrow, three-quarters of them would fail. This quite astonishing fact lays bare the reality that could face European players in less than two years’ time.
March 29, 2019 is the date which lies on the horizon for now, but will creep up very quickly for a lot of Premier League and Football League clubs. An inability to prepare for such eventualities could lead to a mass exodus of foreign talent, or the opposite, as players resist the lure of the world’s richest league.
The decision by the FA in 2015 to tighten regulations on non-EEA players highlights the problem I allude to above. In post-Brexit Britain, European players could be subject to the same regulations. British work permits for a non-EEA player are approved on the basis of two criteria, his national team’s FIFA ranking, and the number of appearances he makes for his country. In what is effectively a points based approach, a higher transfer fee and higher wages will also command a higher score for a player. Could we see a large premium develop for some of Europe’s best? Paul Pogba for £150m anyone?
The next point to consider is the economic impact of Britain’s departure from the EU. It’s no secret that the subscription fees of both Sky and BT are getting more expensive year on year. With rising inflation and stagnant wages, the affordability of such TV packages is put into question. If the British public stops paying to watch the Premier League, then its revenue streams would take a hit, and the top clubs would be unable to continue paying big money for the best talent.
The conceivability of a soft Brexit (i.e. the UK stays in the customs union and the single market) remains, but a hard Brexit could leave the elite of the English game having to source players locally. The aforementioned points system coupled with the weak pound could leave many European superstars out of reach financially. This scenario would almost inevitably improve the success of the national side, as a rejuvenated academy system gives a wider pool of players to choose from. On the other hand, you could argue that the competitiveness of the Premier League would be reduced greatly, as the top players from Europe choose to ply their trade elsewhere.
English football faces a big dilemma between the vested interests of the FA, and that of the Premier League. The former sees Brexit as an opportunity for more English talent to be given a chance in the absence of EU laws, while the latter wishes to protect its status as the richest and most commercialised league in the world. Both are lobbying the government hard, but one can only wonder, how important is the English game to Theresa May right now?
Note the use of 'Europe' or 'European' implies an EU-registered player.
non-EEA = non-European Economic Area.