What: England’s Football Association is using Brexit as a catalyst to lower the number of overseas players allowed to play on English Premier League clubs.
Why it matters: The FA’s Brexit policy could shake up the transfer market for South American players.
The politics of Brexit have spilled over onto the English Premier League (@PremierLeague) as the Football Association (@England), England’s governing soccer association football, is looking to cap the number of foreign players club teams can sign to their squads.
Brexit is the nickname given to the 2016 British referendum in which the citizens of the United Kingdom (U.K.) voted to leave the European Union (@EUCouncil) — the 28 nation political and economic bloc that enacts regional policies in trade, agriculture, the fishing industry; as well as ensuring free movement of people, goods, services and capital among member nations.
The divisive 2016 referendum ended up with 52 percent of British voters demanding the U.K. leave the EU, though plans to leave the bloc have been slow as the country decides how to approach their departure.
The EU, for their part, approved an agreement, in late November, that gives the English government a road map to exit the bloc, warning British Prime Minister Theresa May that “there is no Plan B,” should the Parliament reject the EU’s map towards an exit of the continental bloc.
Individual teams, particularly mid-table teams, are very concerned about being able to compete at a high level if the FA creates barriers to prevent foreign players from competing in the Premier League
“Those who think that, by rejecting the deal, they would get a better deal, will be disappointed,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The back-and-forth between the UK and the EU is affecting every aspect of British life — from trade to travel to immigration to national security to the business of soccer. As the English government figures out their next steps, the FA is contemplating using Brexit as an opportunity to potentially reduce the number of foreign players allowed to play in the EPL, reducing the allotment of foreigner players on a roster from 17 to 13.
Currently, there are 260 overseas players competing in the Premier League, with 52 of them (20 percent) originating from The Americas and the Caribbean. Overall, players from the Western Hemisphere make up 10 percent of men on the pitch competing in England’s top league.
Considering England’s national team semifinals run in the 2018 World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup), the FA believes that reducing the number of foreigners in the EPL will allow for more homegrown talent to compete at the highest levels of European soccer, enhancing their chances to win their first World Cup since 1966.
“There has to be sensible center ground where world-class players are welcomed in the Premier League but not journeymen who are displacing the young English talent coming through and are hopefully the future of the English national game and the international game and can’t get in the first team,” said FA chairman Greg Clarke. “We now have an opportunity to see what’s right for the game and I don’t just mean the international game, I mean getting young English players into the first team. If Manchester City (@ManCity) or United (@ManUtd) want to buy Neymar (@neymarjr) or someone like that, then bring it on, that’s wonderful. We want to see wonderful Premier League football and competitive sides, that’s good for the game. It’s the next tier down, the international players who may be only as good as the talent coming through but are proven and easy to pick. I want to make sure if you are going to displace a young English player it’s by a world-class player and not an average player.”
EPL officials are opposed to the FA’s plan, arguing that blocking foreigners from playing in the league will not help improve the English national team or their ambitions to win a World Cup.
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“We currently operate rules that limit the number of non-homegrown players clubs can have in senior squads, while also working with clubs to operate a world-leading player development system which delivers for England teams at every level,” the league said in a recent statement. “This was demonstrated by the many Premier League club Academy and senior players whom FA coaches molded so well into Under-17 and Under-20 FIFA World Cup winners and men’s FIFA (@FIFAcom) 2018 World Cup semi-finalists. There is no evidence that stronger quotas that exist now would have a positive impact on national teams.”
Individual teams, particularly mid-table teams, are very concerned about being able to compete at a high level if the FA creates barriers to prevent foreign players from competing in the Premier League.
“It threatens to make the widening inequality gap in our top division even worse,” Burnley (@BurnleyOfficial) chairman Mike Garlick. “The hit to the value of the pound against the euro, largely caused by Brexit uncertainty, is already making it harder for clubs to sign players.”
Brexit will also inevitably affect the lower half of the Premier League table as well as the upper rungs of the English Football League Championship (@EFL), with millions at stake in relegation and promotions between the EFL and EPL clubs.
“The negative consequences are plain for all to see,” said Stoke City (@stokecity) chairman Peter Coates to the BBC. “The fall in the value of the pound that we’ve already seen, as well as the risk to our country’s economic prosperity, cannot be brushed under the carpet. Depending on the Brexit deal, the Premier League, one of our country’s success stories, could be damaged by freedom-of-movement restrictions. This could also affect the Championship. If this goes badly, it will be places like Stoke that suffer the most.”
Scott Rosner (@scottrosner), Academic Director of the Master of Science in Sports Management program in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University and lead author of The Business of Sports, concurs that it may be the mid-table teams attempting to push themselves into a UEFA Europa League berth, such as Burnley, as well as clubs staving off relegation, that may bear the brunt of Brexit. Rosner believes that South American players likely to look at other alternatives besides the Premier League, as a result of the new quotas imposed by the FA.
“If there is a limit placed on international players, it would likely lead to more players headed to the other European Big Four leagues as the EPL would no longer be an option for as many players,” said Rosner. “That could have a trickle-down effect on the somewhat lesser quality players who would not receive as generous offers from European clubs and could wind up staying in their home nations – or at least wind up in their next best options, which is often Brazil or Argentina. Salaries would likely be impacted, though how much is uncertain, as the decreased demand for those players would lead to decreases in salaries for some.”
Cover Image: Flickr/Nick Sarebi