Brexit could put the Premier League at a competitive disadvantage
When the English Premier League returns on January 12th after its brief hiatus after the festival, have a look around. It may not be the best football track in the world for long.
While the Brexit saga that has been gnawing up the UK since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016 has largely flown under the radar elsewhere, it will change the prem as fans that make it the most watched sports league in the world have made it knows.
The UK pulled out of the EU for good last week. This is the first transfer window to see the new rules that give UK workers priority over those of the country’s European neighbors. A club like Chelsea can no longer simply sign a promising 18-year-old French winger without asking questions. Now that player is subject to all sorts of restrictions before obtaining a UK work permit, with his eligibility ultimately being determined by a complicated point system. This test scores too low and is an automatic “no” regardless of the circumstances. For these players there is not even an option to turn to the exception box.
This has implications for every club in the Premier League and beyond. Take a second division club like Norwich City. According to a table by Michael Bailey who covers the Canaries for the athlete, 11 of the 17 are non-British. Signings Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber, made since his hiring in 2017, would have been impossible in the post-Brexit world, including standout artists Emi Buendia, Teemu Pukki and Christoph Zimmermann.
Young English players will have more opportunities now, that’s true. The new rules could keep the next Jaden Sancho or Jude Bellingham, who left Manchester City and Birmingham City respectively, at home, as the playing time with the German titans Borussia Dortmund was easier to get. But it’s a net loss.
In the bad old days before the 1995 Bosman ruling, British teams were mostly made up of local players who were technically and tactically inferior to their contemporaries south and east of the English Channel. Between 1985 and 1998 not a single English team reached a European Cup final, let alone one.
The title “World’s Best” is subjective and of course changes constantly. However, based on the results of European competitions, the trends are clear. Italy was the undisputed number one in the ’90s. Spain and Germany were likely front runners in the early to mid-2000s, with the Prem taking the throne by the end of the Aughts thanks to an influx of players from across the continent. Led by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the crown returned to La Liga in the middle of the last decade. In 2015, not a single English team reached the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.
Recently, however, the Premier League has regained the upper hand. In 2019, all four finalists of the Champions League and the Europa League came from the Prem for the first time. And once again, it did so mainly because of its foreign talent. Players everywhere want to be in England, where the pay, fans and cultural relevance of the sport are as good as possible.
But attracting these players, especially the younger ones, from across the continent is now getting tougher as these players are now facing a number of restrictions that weren’t there before – restrictions affecting Premier League competition in Germany, Spain, Italy and even France brings you don’t have to worry about the future.
The same obstacles that have long kept promising but unproven Argentinians, Brazilians and Americans from starting their professional careers in England – there’s a reason so many top young US players start in the German Bundesliga in Europe – will be those too from Belgium and Portugal and even close to Ireland.
The effects will likely not be felt immediately. Established international stars from around the world will continue to easily meet the criteria required for a work permit in the UK. Young foreign players who are already under contract with English clubs are allowed to stay. In the coming years, however, Brexit could put England at a competitive disadvantage. No league stays at the top forever. The end of the last run of the Premier League may have already begun.
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