London – Around five months before the planned British departure from the European Union there is unrest and uncertainty in English football – what will happen after Brexit day on March 29, 2019?
Brexit consequences are difficult to predict
“After two and a half years, I still don’t know if it will be good or bad [for English football],” Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, said.
The consequences for the Premier League are difficult to predict. But Pochettino and others fear that after Brexit it will be more difficult to sign foreign players, especially if Britain and the EU do not reach a deal on their future trading arrangements.
Currently, every footballer from an EU country can play for any Premier League club. On the other hand, strict criteria apply to sign players from countries outside the EU and to receive a work permit the player needs Football Association approval.
The normal prerequisite for the work permit is being an established national player for a country of reasonable standard, though there is discretion. A fringe member of the Brazilian squad will likely be waved through, a Venezuelan would require a wardrobe full of international caps.
In the future, the same rules could apply for all non-British players – much to the concern of those involved. Last year, club owners held a joint meeting with the government to discuss protecting the league from damage.
They wanted exceptions to employment law so top footballers could continue to ply their trade in England.
“There must be a reasonable basis on which world-class players come to the Premier League but not journeymen who displace young English talent,” said FA chairman Greg Clarke last year.
Clarke hopes the England team will benefit if fewer supposedly average players come to the country in the long run. He seems to have little interest in negotiating an exception.
Financially weaker clubs, such as Huddersfield Town with the German coach David Wagner in charge, would have to change their approach. The Terriers were promoted to the top-flight, and survived, with several Germans who had previously plied their trade in the second division of their native land.
Clubs have concerns
It is doubtful that their top performers such as Christopher Schindler or Chris Loewe would get a work permit if the current regulations for non-EU players were applied.
The same is true for some of the players who contributed to Leicester City’s astonishing Premier League win in 2016, including now World Cup winner N’Golo Kante of France.
Burnley chairman Mike Garlick warned “ending freedom of movement will make it much more difficult for teams to attract the right talent, if the government brings in more restrictive conditions for work visas for players from Europe.
Brexit – ironically backed by a large majority in Burnley – was not welcomed by the club boss.
“It threatens to make the widening inequality gap in our top division even worse,” he said.
Garlick said the impact of Brexit was already being felt as the pound weakened and the Manchester Evening News reported some Manchester United players had asked to be paid in euros rather than sterling.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp has called for a second referendum on British membership of the EU.
“Let’s think about it again and let’s vote again with the right information – not with the information you’ve got around the Brexit campaign,” he told the Guardian.
“If the politicians now realise it will be tough and it will be bad for England, why not go back and explain, ‘This is what is going to happen to us’,” he said.
“If I’m going to crash [the car] but Jesus [Perez, Pochettino’s trusted assistant manager] is saying ‘come on, come on, push, faster’. No! Stop!”