Brexit’s Impact on Football: An Unintended Victim?

By: Ahmad Bin Tahir      Published: 09:14 PM, 9 Jan, 2021
Brexit’s Impact on Football: An Unintended Victim?
The Premier League.–File photo

“Fabregas, looking for his favourite target man… DIEGO COSTA!”, shouts the commentator, as Chelsea secure a resounding 2-nil win against Arsenal. While the goal was for Costa to score, it took a moment of genius from Cesc Fabregas as he lobbed the ball over 4 Arsenal players, landing it perfectly on Costa’s chest. Of course, this was not the first time that Fabregas had silenced the opposition stands by creating a chance out of nothing. He gave 23 Assists during the 2014/15 season. While he remains in the memories of premier league fans as one of the most prolific creative players in Premier League history, the PL might never have witnessed his magic if the current Brexit deal had been applied only a few years earlier. Or in simple words, owing to the Brexit deal, the Premier League might never see another player like Cesc Fabregas.

Britain’s exit from the EU took place on 1st January 2021. Even though there was a lot of debate within and outside of the country with regards to the economic and political implications of Brexit, the sporting aspect did not gain nearly as much light, despite sports, especially football, being an essential part of the life of an average UK citizen. The deal, therefore, resulted in increased limitations upon the Premier League clubs.

The Premier League clubs have now been restricted to signing only three under-21 players from the EU, while players younger than 18 cannot be signed at all. This is, of course, going to drive a significant change in the academy policies of PL clubs, who previously used to sign young players from the EU in significant numbers. The practice within many of these clubs was to sign these players to the youth academy, train them and give them a chance to prove themselves. They were also regularly loaned out to lower division clubs within the UK, as well as other top-flight European clubs. The foremost amongst these clubs is Chelsea, with 31 players loaned out as per December.

Following Brexit, teams will have to ensure that their new signings now obtain a certain point tally to be eligible to compete. Earning 15 points will award these players with a Government Body Endorsement (GBE), which will allow Premier League clubs to sign them while scoring 10-14 points will place their applications on the exceptions panel, which can choose to allow certain players who have not fulfilled the criteria completely. But what are the criteria for these points? These will be based on the number of appearances a player has for their respective country within the past two years. The FIFA Ranking of the country and the percentage of games played will factor in how many points the player gets.

So how exactly will this impact the Premier League? Well, for starters, the fact that under-18s aren’t allowed anymore will be important, since PL clubs regularly snapped away promising youngsters from foreign academies to train them in their own. This was important as it allowed the Premier League to have an ability to shape a player from their early days. For instance, Chelsea signed Xavier Mbuyamba, a promising talent from La Masia, FC Barcelona’s youth academy. This means that Chelsea made a long term investment into this player so they won’t have to pay inflated prices if he were to perform well in the future. This strategy has been successful in the past because these signings almost always pay off. Either they turn out to be world-class players like Fabregas or Paul Pogba, or they can be sold to other clubs for a profit. This won’t happen anymore, and this is perhaps the most important impact of the deal.

But apart from this, the limitations on foreign players who are either senior or under-21 are not significant. Premier League clubs do not make many under-21 signings anyway and even if they want to, the Exceptions Panel is there for the assistance, which in itself will prove to be a loophole around these rules.

Perhaps the entire thought-process behind this scenario is that homegrown players would be given more of a chance. Since there will be no foreign under-18s, British players will have the academies all to themselves and will serve as crucial additions to England’s youth teams. Furthermore, more academy players, or more specifically, more British players, will break into the senior teams since they will have a relatively greater opportunity to do so.

Bottom line: even though the likelihood of more British talent emerging will be great, we will almost certainly miss out on foreign players who could have illuminated the Premier League with their playing style. It is certainly sad to consider the prospect that we might never have witnessed Fabregas, or Pogba, or Bellerin, but the actual impact of these policies might manifest themselves years later.