How will ‘Brexit’ affect English football?

Jordan Elgott, contributor and pundit of CityWatch, discusses how Brexit will affect English Football.

Over two months have now passed since the result of the EU Referendum shook the nation, yet we are still non-the-wiser when it comes to how this actually affects us. Key appointments have been made, and new positions have been created, dedicated solely to negotiating the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Despite this, ‘there is still no Brexit plan’ according to Sky News’ Political Editor, Faisal Islam.

Lacking definitive news on the effects of ‘Brexit’, newspaper speculation has been rife. Every day without fail there are new stories on how the housing market will be affected, how financial firms are affected, and how specific regions are affected. What we haven’t heard much of, is how football is affected, although that is probably due to its relative lack of importance compared to the aforementioned categories.

Due to the (correct) association with football being ‘a game’, people tend to forget that it is very much a business nowadays. The English Premier League has a CEO, Richard Scudamore, like any other company, while every individual club has their own CEO and a board of directors. It is common knowledge that the amount of money passed around in football is astronomical, and as a result of constant financial interaction between European clubs, there is a real chance that ‘Brexit’ will have a significant effect on the football industry.

Work Permits:

The UK leaving the European Union is likely to have a major impact on the number of foreign players appearing in the English Premier League. Currently the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides that workers shall have freedom of movement between member states. In relation to football, this means that any player whose nationality is that of an EU member state will automatically receive a work permit to play football in the United Kingdom. For players who come from non-EU countries, there is a very strict set of criteria for gaining a work permit, which more than 100 current Premier League players (from EU member states) would now fail.

The effects of this are now dependent on negotiations at a government level, but the most obvious plan of action would be to universally apply the same work permit criteria given to non-EU nationals. According to Sky Sports News, 432 European players were registered to play in the Premier League last year, but those that fail the new criteria are unlikely to have their work permit rescinded. However, if those players wanted to move to another club in the UK, they would have to reapply for a work permit under the new criteria, and would face a real chance of rejection.

FA Work Permit Regulations: Requirements for international footballers to join the Premier League:

  • A player from a FIFA ranked top-10 nation has to have played in 30% of games for his international team in the two years prior to application
  • A player from a nation ranked 11-20 must have played in 45% of international games
  • A player from a nation ranked 21-30 must have played in 60% of international games
  • A player from a nation ranked 31-50 must have played in 75% of international games

It is hard to give examples of who may be in danger in the future due to changing circumstances, but if we apply the potential new criteria to past examples, it becomes clear how substantial an effect this may have. Key players in the 2015/2016 season such as Dimitri Payet, Anthony Martial and N’Golo Kante would not have been given permission to complete their moves to English clubs, as they all fail a key requirement of the non-EU work permit criteria. Historical examples of players whose request for a work permit would not be accepted include Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona, Paulo Di Canio and David Ginola. It can be well argued that without some of those players mentioned, most notably Ronaldo and Henry, the Premier League would not be the same competition that it is today.

Young Players:

It is not just established players who will suffer from the change in laws, as the break from the European Union would also deny many young players moves to England. Under Article 19 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), international transfers are only permitted for players over the age of eighteen, apart from limited exceptions. One of these exceptions is if the transfer takes place within the EU or European Economic Area (EEA), then the age criteria is reduced to sixteen.

Notable examples of players who this would have affected in the past include Hector Bellerin and Cesc Fabregas, who both moved to Arsenal from Barcelona at the young age of 16. Fabregas has gone onto become one of the most talented players in the world, while Bellerin looks to be on the same path. Meanwhile, both of the Manchester clubs will have to adapt their youth transfer policy as players such as Paul Pogba, Gerard Pique and Adnan Januzaj would not have been able to sign for United in their teens, while City have been sweeping up some of Spain’s best young talents such as Aleix Garcia, Angeliño and Pablo Maffeo.

Inflated Transfer Fees:

Dr Babatunde Buraimo, a senior lecturer in sports economics at the University of Liverpool, told The Telegraph that Brexit will mean clubs having to pay more to acquire players:

“Clubs will be limited to hiring higher calibre players from highly FIFA ranked EU countries,” he said.“If the Premier League is limited to these players, this will increase the values, in terms of transfer fees and wages, of acquiring proven and established EU players. Missing out on rising talent will be one of the drawbacks.”

In other words, due to the improbability that ‘rising talent’ will be able to secure work permits, teams will have to target more established players, who will undoubtedly cost more. N’Golo Kante is the example that is most frequently given, as he cost Leicester just £7.65 million, before going on to become one of the best players in the league during the 2015/2016 season.

Furthermore, Brexit caused the sterling (£) to be weaker due to uncertainty about how the UK would negotiate future trade deals. Paul Pogba has been by far the biggest signing of this summer transfer window, costing Manchester United €105 million to bring the Frenchman back from Juventus. In pounds sterling, this cost them £89 million initially. According to Andy Mitten of Yahoo Sport, had the deal been completed before the UK public decided to leave the EU, the deal would have cost £15 million less. This could become a regular occurrence if the £ fails to recover to the same level it was at pre-Brexit, and has already contributed to a record amount of money being spent in this transfer window by Premier League clubs (approximately £1.175 billion).

The Fans:

It isn’t just the clubs that will feel the bite of the UK’s impending withdrawal from the European Union. Supporters are often overlooked in debates about football and they, too, will pay a price when Britain leaves the EU. At least six Premier League teams participate in European competitions, with fans that travel to away matches enjoying relatively cheap flights. However, the falling value of the pound will increase the cost of travelling to away games and fans will now require a VISA to obtain entry for any European match.


The true effect of Brexit on English football is dependent on changes and negotiations at a government level. While we can attempt to predict how the relevant institutions will react to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, we cannot be certain as to what extent it will affect English football as an industry.

Based on common sense however, it is clear that Brexit will have a negative effect on English football, at least in the short term. The likelihood of stricter work permit laws will undoubtedly see a decline in the quality on display in future Premier League seasons, with fewer young and rising stars being permitted to work in the UK. Clubs will continue to suffer financially if the value of the sterling (£) doesn’t recover back to it’s pre-Brexit level, while fans will also feel the crunch on European away days.

The hope is that these predictions are greatly exaggerated, but it is telling that all 20 Premier League clubs came out in favour of the Remain campaign, as did Premier League CEO, Richard Scudamore.

“The future prosperity of our game at all levels is under threat if we leave the EU. And there is no going back on the decision if we vote to leave. Walking away is too big a risk to take.” said James McGrory, chief campaign spokesman for Britain Stronger In Europe.

But we have left, and now English football must find a way to deal with the consequences.

words by Jordan Elgott

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