In the wake of Leave winning the EU referendum with 51.9% of the vote, what does this mean for English football and the Premier League? If rumours are to be believed, it could be a time of transition for the beautiful game, and the EU vote has repercussions that will be felt at the top of the pyramid.
It’ll take years for Britain to fully recover from the economic fallout of the vote, and football is also affected. EU membership has nothing to do with being part of UEFA, but it’ll have an effect in the coming years after the exit process has been finalised.
Player prices are going to go up drastically, and it’s not just because the pound has crashed to a record low. If clubs are forced to pick from a diminished pool of talented players, it’s likely they’ll be forced to pay a premium price.
(The currency fluctuations have led to doubts over West Ham’s proposed deal for Michy Batshuayi from Marseille, which is now worth a lot less yesterday.)
Work permits were no problem for those in the EU under the old rules, but footballers from outside the EU usually need to have a number of appearances for their national side before they’re eligible. (They have to prove that they’re a player of the highest calibre, featuring in 75% of games for their national team over the past two years.)
With Britain leaving the EU, it could be harder for clubs to sign younger players from Europe. Over 100 current Premier League players would be ineligible under these rules, and it would change the landscape of English football if they weren’t around. (If the rules were applied retroactively, there would be vacancies across the country at top teams.)
Anthony Martial would have struggled to make the move to Manchester United if he had to apply for a traditional permit, while Dimitri Payet is another big name that wasn’t established with the international side when he signed for West Ham.
Then again, for every Payet there are five to ten that can’t make the grade. It’ll definitely be harder to snap up young talent and hidden gems if loopholes are closed during negotiations, but it could give homegrown players the chance to shine.
Most experts believe that keeping a modified version of the current rule is the most likely outcome. There’s a lot of money at stake for players, clubs and agents alike.
Sol Campbell recently suggested that a vote for Brexit would be great for British football, and the Premier League in particular.
“As things stand, I do have concerns about the future. The Premier League is in danger of becoming a free-for-all because, along with the star players, we are seeing teams load up with too many mediocre overseas footballers, especially from Europe, crowding out young English and British talent.
If we had proper control of who can come in and out of Britain, we could attract the best of the best wherever they come from, while not letting in those who will be less of an asset.
Rather than having to allow any European player to come here, we could use the same filtering system that already applies to non-EU footballers. We could then keep the Premier League well supplied with top international players, while growing the pool of home talent.”
The problem is, there’s a limited pool of ‘top international players’ which means inflated prices for the top clubs, as well as inflated prices for talent within the league.
The general quality of the football in the Premier League has been on the wane in recent years, but it could get even lower without European imports. There’s a reason why they’re continually picked ahead of British players.
On the other hand, it could also lead to a renewed search across wider scouting networks, giving players from around the world the same opportunities offered to the Europeans. Players from Europe were easier to sign in the past, and other areas have been neglected.
Reports from Spain suggest that Real Madrid might have get rid of Gareth Bale because he’ll eventually become a non-EU player (of which they’re only allowed three.) British players don’t move to Europe that frequently, but it’s worth remembering that it goes both ways.
The Premier League campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU, and it's clear where their motivations lay. Could Brexit really damage the Premier League that badly? From a financial point of view, it’s argued that they could suffer a loss in revenue if they have problems when negotiating deals, but there’s still a lot of money in the top flight, as well as the Championship.
Whichever way you voted, immigration was always a major factor in the EU referendum. It’s no surprise that players from Europe will face issues when trying to move here, while they’re likely to be more expensive.
With a weakened pound, it’s going to be a costly business. The broadcasting rights money will plug some of the gaps, but if the standard of football continues to drop there could be issues when it comes to renegotiating terms. (Pricing has never been an issue in the past for the Premier League, but there’s always a breaking point.)
That being said, it will give British players a better chance of reaching the first team, which will help the national team for every home nation. It could spell the end of £20m fees for average players from Europe, and we should start seeing only the best moving from the continent.
The protracted extraction from the EU will probably be painful, but football will continue as normal for now.