Brexit and the Premier League: What You Need to Know

Written By Peter Taberner on October 8, 2019

Premier League clubs will be watching on anxiously over the outcome of the UK’s impending exit from the European Union (EU). As like with any industry, the terms and conditions of leaving the trade bloc could have far reaching knock on effects.

The plan currently is that the UK will finally leave the EU by October 31st this year, but deadlines have been set before and not met.

As the situation stands, there is no agreement between the UK and the EU on how Brexit will be handled, leaving an lingering uncertainty on what the future trade relationship will be between the two parties.

Consequently, if there is a more restrictive Brexit that is put into place or a “no deal”, EU players’ current status, work permit and future player registration conditions, could be starkly different.

For example, if there was a new non EU immigration points based system that was implemented, that would include footballers.

How the ‘Bosman Ruling’ is interpreted in the outcome of Brexit is another potentially major development.

The ruling in 1995 that a player was free to leave a club without a transfer fee once a contract had expired, was passed by the European Court of Justice.

Work permit conditions based on many circumstances 

Players from EU member state countries have been allowed to ply their trade across the bloc, due to the freedom of movement principle enshrined in the constitution of the EU.

Article 45 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, allows EU citizens to work without permits in other countries with equal rights.

Currently, and as a gauge of how player transfers might be enacted in the future for those EU based , non-EU players have to apply for a Governing Body Endorsement from the Football Association (FA). It can be secured once they have a club to act as a sponsor.

A player’s eligibility for a work permit is also decided on a series of factors that includes the number of international caps that have been earned, two years prior to the application of the permit, and additionally the FIFA ranking of the national team a player appears for.

If a national team is ranked between one and ten in the world, a player would have to have played in 30% of his or her national team games.

Whereas if the national team was ranked between 31 and 50 in the world, then a player would have to perform in 75% of the matches.

Should a player fall short of the criteria, then the work permit application will be referred to an “Exceptions Panel”.

The other issues that are considered by the panel include a player’s transfer fee, salary agreements and recent playing history.

Premier League and the Football Association set for collision course 

Reports have suggested that there is a growing battle between the Premier League and the FA, over the quotas of home-grown players.

The FA are thought to be keen to use Brexit as leverage to limit the amount of overseas players in Premier League squads to 12, down from the current limit of 17.

A Spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work with the Premier League, the English Football League, and a range of government departments, including the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Treasury during this consultation period.”

Premier League rules state that a home-grown player has to be registered with a club, for three seasons before the player turns 21.

It’s a law that extends to foreign players if they moved to an English club as a youngster, Paul Pogba would qualify as he spent his formative years at Manchester United, before his £90 million move back to Old Trafford from Juventus three years ago.

Yet the Premier League’s interim chief executive Richard Masters, has voiced his opposition to the reduction of overseas talent, saying that Premier League clubs want the full access to the most able players in the wake of Brexit.

A study conducted by the data based news service FiveThirtyEight, found just how international the Premier League has become.

At the time the Bosman Ruling was announced, and the three foreign player limit was discarded, players from the UK and Ireland accounted for around 85% of Premier League footballers.

The number have since then dramatically plummeted to around 40%, in the 2015/16 season.

Team members arriving from the rest of the EU in turn escalated rapidly, also reaching a total of 40% of Premier League players, an significant increase of around 30% after the Bosman verdict.

While players from the rest of the world peaked at just under 25% of players ten years ago, but there has been a steady decline since to around 20%.

In a future scenario study, FiveThirtyEight also found that if the status quo remained and if EU nationals could play in the Premier League with few or no hurdles, there would little deviation from the current player nationality ratios.

If as expected, freedom of movements comes to an end with Brexit, then a different story is told.

The proportion of EU players in the Premier League considerably falls to 20% in the 2028/29 season.

In contrast, the volume of players from the UK and Ireland spirals to 64% of the total number of players.

Premier League clubs’ wealth and competitiveness under threat 

Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, clubs have been able to attract the world’s best players paying exorbitant salaries, due to the strength of its wealth creation powers.

The latest broadcasting rights deal reached around £5 billion to show live matches over the next three years, with the rights divided between Sky TV, BT and Amazon Prime.

Overseas rights to Premier League games have driven the total to £9,2 billion overall, staggeringly it’s a competition that is shown in 189 countries.

If a “hard” Brexit occurs, and if players from EU countries are subject to the same conditions as non-EU players, it could make it a much harder environment for Premier League clubs to trade.

In theory a Premier League that does not boast the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen and Virgil Van Dijk, could result in the league being more of a turn off to its global audience.

Teams could also not be as competitive in the Champions |League, if EU based players see a less restrictive La Liga or Serie A as a better destination than England, especially with the dwindling value of the pound.

Yet Premier League clubs are not showing any signs that they are intimidated by Brexit, in how they are spending.

The CIES Football Observatory found that since 2016, the year of the referendum, transfer fee investments have increased.

In 2016 there was just under 1.8 billion euros in transfer outlays, which rose to 2.15 billion last year, but did slightly decline to 1.9 billion euros this year.

Premier League in talks with authorities 

Now the Premier League is in talks with the government and stakeholders in response to what happens next. And the UK government will also have to reflect, on how to treat an organisation that generates £3.3 billion for the British treasury in taxes annually.

A public statement last year read: “Like many other organisations dependent on a combination of domestic and international talent, we are waiting to better understand what the political and regulatory landscape will be after the UK leaves the European Union.”

“Access to talented footballers from across Europe has played a key part in the growth of the Premier League, with match attendance and global interest increasing significantly as high quality foreign players have taken their place in the competition with and against the best British and Irish players.”

“We have held positive discussions with Government about the importance of access to European players for our clubs, and the many cultural and economic benefits a globally popular Premier League brings to the UK.”

Brexit has so far caused an almost unprecedented mess in British politics, leaving a nation divided over its outcome.

As a result the Premier League may have longer than past Halloween to negotiate with the UK government, and clarify its position post EU membership, for its kick offs of the future.

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