Harder for foreigners to move to EPL with Brexit

Belgian forward Michy Batshuayi's mooted move to Premier League club West Ham faces another hurdle before going through, with Brexit putting an end to workers' freedom of movement to Britain.
Belgian forward Michy Batshuayi's mooted move to Premier League club West Ham faces another hurdle before going through, with Brexit putting an end to workers' freedom of movement to Britain.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The English football authorities had harboured "very great concerns" over the possible impact of Britain choosing to leave the European Union for some time before Thursday's referendum.

The English Premier League's (EPL) chief executive Richard Scudamore was concerned that a Brexit vote was at odds with the top flight's commitment to "openness".

And Stoke chairman Peter Coates had said there are "all sorts of worries" about the effects of a vote to leave, particularly in relation to player recruitment and the increased cost to supporters.

It is this issue - the ability to sign European talent without needing a work permit when freedom of movement no longer applies - which will be of primary concern now.

Dozens of players currently in the EPL would not automatically have qualified to play in the most popular league globally had they not been in possession of a European Union (EU) passport when they moved to England and had, instead, been required to apply for a work permit.

They include Leicester's reigning PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, David de Gea and Morgan Schneiderlin of Manchester United, Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and Dimitri Payet of West Ham.

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We're talking about half of the Premier League needing work permits.

RACHEL ANDERSON, football agent, on the ramifications of Britain leaving the European Union.

Now, Britain will have a two-year window in which to negotiate a new treaty to replace the terms of the European Union membership.

According to Paul Shapiro, an associate at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, that means the real effects could take some time to filter through, although he predicts a significant impact on various issues from the increased cost of transfers to problems with work permits for players from EU countries.

For instance, West Ham's €40 million (S$60 million) offer to buy Marseille's Michy Batshuayi was worth £31 million on Thursday, but now already equates to more than £34 million.

The current process grants high-profile, regular international players - those who have played in at least 75 per cent of their country's senior international matches over the previous two years - work permits automatically, while those who do not meet those criteria must go through an appeals process.

That is subject to a points system, weighted towards those players with high transfer fees and significant wages.

Only players who cost more than £10 million and have a basic weekly salary of £45,000 can be reasonably confident of getting through.

Needless to say, that would both have an inflationary effect on transfer fees and wages and make it significantly harder to sign players from markets - France and Spain, in particular - that have long been a source of talent for English clubs.

For example, Schneiderlin, Yohan Cabaye, Anthony Martial and N'Golo Kante would no longer be eligible for a work permit having not featured in more than 45 per cent of France's matches since June 2014.

"Leaving the EU will have a much bigger effect on football than people think," football agent Rachel Anderson told the BBC in March.

"We're talking about half of the Premier League needing work permits. The short-term impact would be huge but you could argue it will help in the long term as it could force clubs to concentrate on home-grown talent."

The most seismic change, however, could be at youth level. Currently, English sides are allowed to recruit players under the age of 18 from abroad because of an exemption to Fifa's rules on the transfer of minors which permits players to move within the EU.

The most high-profile example, of course, involved Arsenal recruiting Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona as a 16-year-old. Now that Britain is leaving the EU, that simply will not happen again.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Harder for foreigners to move to EPL with Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe