How Will Brexit Impact the Transfer Market Moving Forward?

The pandemic has a significant effect on the transfer market and where English clubs are concerned, Brexit threatens to have its own impact on clubs dealings

Darryl Rigby 22/03/2021 22comments  |  Jump to last

Back in January, with Premier League clubs still struggling to come to terms with the economic impact of Covid-19, the purse strings were tightened and the rumour mill came to a grinding halt in what proved to be the most uneventful midseason transfer window on record.

Indeed, throughout the entire English top flight, there was a total of just 26 signings – down almost 50% from the previous year – with clubs sticking with the squads they have rather than forking out on new players during these dark and turbulent times.

With such a large chunk of revenue lost due to a lack of ticket sales, it was no surprise to see clubs adopt a more frugal approach as they try and weather this seemingly never-ending financial storm.

But in addition to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, is there another reason why clubs failed to recruit new players in? Something to do with that dreaded B-word, perhaps!

Brexit Transfer Chaos

While we were all busy wondering what impact Brexit would have on the economy, few of us stopped to consider the effect leaving the EU would have on our transfer market. Now, the realities of our withdrawal and what that means for football transfers are starting to hit home; moving forward, the ramifications could be severe.

When MPs and representatives were in parliament haggling over a withdrawal deal, much of the focus centred around the trade of goods between Britain and the rest of Europe. But, as the negotiating rumbled on for what seemed like an eternity, one area that was never really given a second thought – at least by most – was the trade of professional footballers.

But, following our split from the union on 1 January, it now looks as though Brexit is set to complicate matters for managers looking to recruit from the continent – some of whom apparently had no idea they were about to face such issues.

Take our former manager, Sam Allardyce, for example. Big Sam – now in charge of struggling West Brom – has been consistently vocal about his dislike for the European Union. When asked how he’d voted in 2016’s referendum, Allardyce was emphatic in his response.

“I am out,” Allardyce told the Sun newspaper a couple of years back. “My feeling is that the European Union isn’t doing the United Kingdom any favours.”

But, after getting his wish and seeing the country formally leave the trading bloc in January, Allardyce got more than he bargained for with the new rules put in place torpedoing much of his transfer business.

“I have found three players already who were capable of coming here and were not allowed,” he said last month. “It’s a shame. Due to new regulations in terms of the permit, they were unable to come to this country, whereas previously they would have done. I have to look at that and think ‘can he qualify?’”

Whoever would’ve thought cutting ties with the EU – the trading bloc of which you’ve been a member of for almost 50 years, which was set up purely to make dealing with the rest of the continent easier – would lead to more red tape and make the recruitment of European players less straight-forward? Not Allardyce, by the looks of it!

Changes to the Rules

While Allardyce didn’t go into specifics about why the transfers in question failed to materialise, the new rules stipulate that every player coming to the UK from Europe must now have a work permit.

The work permits are granted on a points-based system, and a panel takes into consideration a range of factors including club appearances, international caps (senior or youth) and the quality of the selling club. If the player meets the criteria, he’ll be granted a GBE (Government Body Endorsement) and the transfer will be complete. If not, the deal’s off and the manager will have to look elsewhere.

It’s likely Allardyce’s targets didn’t fit the standard now required, which meant the former England boss missed out on the recruits he badly needs to help his struggling West Brom side avoid relegation.

Ban on U-18 internationals

There’s also the possibility one or more of the players Allardyce was targeting was an Under-18 international, which is now banned altogether under new rules agreed by the Premier League, Football League, FA and UK government. The new rules were put in place to aid the development of homegrown talent and prevent British players being frozen out at academy level, and this could be the one shining light that emerges from Brexit.

With less competition from abroad, youngsters will now get more of a look-in, which governing bodies hope will gradually result in the cultivation of better British players, eventually translating to more success at international level.

For years, England’s failures have been put down to the Premier League’s overreliance on foreign imports; so, with more now being done to produce world class talent in our academies, could it be just a matter of time before we finally end the near-60-year-long wait and lift some silverware at long last? We certainly hope so!

Latino style

Another potential upside is the possibility of an influx of South Americans to English football. James and Allan – two players who have enjoyed successful debut seasons at Goodison Park – are both prime examples of the quality South American players can bring to the Premier League, and those who like to see the silky technical ability that’s practically coded into the DNA of many of these players from Latin America might be in for a treat, with managers forced to shop elsewhere now that purchasing players from Europe has become problematic.

When the Brexit debate was doing the rounds, few anticipated the impact it would have on the transfer of football players to and from Europe. But now the withdrawal has been finalised, it’s becoming clear things are changing for good and, while there may be some good to come from the decision, for managers of British clubs looking to raid the European transfer market to sign new recruits, things are about to get much more complex.

Just ask Big Sam.

This post was written by Darryl Rigby, Content Executive at the Immigration Advice Service

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Reader Comments (22)

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John Raftery
1 Posted 22/03/2021 at 17:48:22
Protectionism rarely if ever improves the quality of home grown talent. It is wrong to attribute England's failures over the last sixty years to an over-reliance on foreign imports. We failed to qualify for World Cup tournaments in 1974 and 1978 – well before foreign players arrived in significant numbers.

What has happened over the past 25 years or so is that foreign players have raised the standard of our game, with the knock-on effect that homegrown players have needed to match that higher standard in order to make it in the Premier League.

Hence the current England manager has the luxury of many more high-quality players in his squad, including those from several clubs which regularly compete in the latter stages of the Champions League. Contrast that with the situation in the early 1990s when the small pool of talent permitted players as limited as Carlton Palmer to gain an England cap.

It will be interesting to see what if any impact Brexit has on the recruitment of managers...

Dennis Stevens
2 Posted 22/03/2021 at 20:35:30
I would expect buying an E.U. player now to be the same as it has been for non-E.U. players. Is that not so? Why would anybody expect it to be any different?
Danny Broderick
3 Posted 22/03/2021 at 20:52:58
That is now the case Dennis, but it wasn't previously. Previously, we could sign any Frenchman, any Italian, and Spaniard etc. Now, we might want to sign an upcoming Italian defender that Carlo rates really highly - but unless he meets certain criteria, he may not be able to come here. This is often the case with young South American players, it will now be the case with young European players as well...
Barry Rathbone
4 Posted 22/03/2021 at 22:23:20
John Raferty

"What has happened over the past 25 years or so is that foreign players have raised the standard of our game"

I don't think I've ever disagreed with a notion so much. Where are the domestic equivalents to Best, Law, Charlton, Ball, Kendall, Harvey, Bremner, Giles, Osgood, Bell, Summerbee, Curry, Hudson etc etc?

Dennis Stevens
5 Posted 23/03/2021 at 00:16:44
Obviously that was so, Danny, we were in the EU - free movement of labour & all that. I just find it odd that anybody would not have expected the EU to be treated the same as the rest of the world, apart from Ireland of course, once we left the EU. It's not as if it wasn't discussed during the myriad in & out debates. Perhaps some were expecting footballers to get some kind of special dispensation.

John Raftery
6 Posted 23/03/2021 at 15:07:26
Barry (4) I certainly don't dispute the players you name would have shone in any era, just as Rooney, Gerrard, Giggs, Scholes, Owen, Lampard, Ashley Cole, Bale, Kane, Sterling and Vardy have done in the Premier League era.

I believe the current crop of players such as Rice, Reece James, Saka, Foden and Mount will prove their quality in the not too distant future, helped rather than hindered by the presence alongside them of top quality players from abroad.

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 23/03/2021 at 21:33:00
Interesting piece. I guess we just have to get used to dealing with EU countries as we do with South America. I'm sure once it settles down, it will be fine.

Agree with the sentiment Barry. English / British football has not been producing for many decades; way before the influx of foreign players who I feel add to our game.

The proof is in the international game. England has done nothing since 1966 bar celebrating semi final "victories". Scotland has become insignificant and Wales had a good tournament that made Ashley Williams an attractive prospective signing. Hats off to Northern Ireland 1982!

Andrew Ellams
8 Posted 23/03/2021 at 22:35:39
I guess under the new rules somebody like Doucoure and before that Artera or Distin would struggle to obtain work permits due to their lack of international caps.
Don Alexander
9 Posted 23/03/2021 at 23:35:53
Don't worry folks, we have a world-respected transfer-guru, or so we're told by a diminishing number of his afficionados, in the boardroom, still, for some bizarre reason.

What could possibly go wrong?

Robert Tressell
10 Posted 24/03/2021 at 13:41:05
Interesting to see what this does to pricing. Prem and young english players already generally very over priced relative to the EU market.

If the EU cannot sell in volume to the UK then it might crash the prices amongst the EU. Who knows.

It reinforces the idea that we should invest more in our own talent. That is something I'm keen we do for a variety of reasons but it can take years to bear fruit.

Maybe we look beyond the EU altogether? The volume of young talent emerging from the US is very impressive. Maybe that's a natural development - and partner clubs over there (informal or even formal) can be a good stepping stone for S. American players too. Somewhere to acquire the work permit before moving to these shores? There will be an Onyekuru risk - but we managed to shift Onyekuru fairly easily.

A good post-Brexit strategy could just be the thing to steal us a march on the opposition, or at least help make us more competitive.

Mike Gaynes
11 Posted 24/03/2021 at 14:03:10
Robert #10, amen, nothing could make me happier than to have Everton develop a solid pipeline to North America. Partnerships with academies over here would probably not be productive because the coaching isn't up to European standards, but MLS is signing increasing numbers of teenagers -- both US and Latin American -- and giving them chances to play at a very young age. Fishing among those teenagers could be a very profitable place to find talent. That's how Bayern discovered Alphonso Davies and Leipzig bagged Tyler Adams.

And these players would be much, much less expensive than English prospects of the same age and potential.

Robert Tressell
12 Posted 24/03/2021 at 14:21:59
I think you've mentioned this before Mike and the market dynamics now make it more logical.

What I don't know is where the talent in the US is being nurtured if not in academies. The US could currently put out an U23s team that would give any other country a run for its money in that age range. So where are these kids learning the ropes?

Mike Gaynes
13 Posted 24/03/2021 at 15:19:11
Actually, Robert, we have very different views of the USA U23s. I've watched them twice in the past week in Olympic qualifyers (we have missed the last three Olympics!), and I was amazed at the lack of intelligence and maturity in their play. They were outplayed by Costa Rica and even struggled against minnows Dominican Republic. They're not learning many ropes.

The young US talent is either jumping straight up into MLS or taking off at age 14 for the European academies. Snagging teenagers off the MLS rosters is what I advocate for us. The best player on our current U23s is Sebastian Soto, 20, who signed with an MLS youth club at 15, left for the Hannover academy at 17, and was signed by Norwich City last summer. We need to step in somewhere during that process, not try to find nuggets among the mud of the US academies.

Danny O’Neill
14 Posted 24/03/2021 at 16:34:31
Firstly, I'd say that like other business vectors, we will find a way of doing business with the EU. We already sign many players from non-EU countries.

Secondly, we can look at other markets; the North American one in particular interests me as the Bundesliga certainly have an eye on that one. Mike gave some feedback on another thread and has here too, but definitely something I would like Everton to tap into.

Thirdly, we actually invest in grass roots here. Not give our current crop of academy produced kids who have come from a sub-standard system a go. I mean overhaul from the bottom up and revolutionise youth football in this country. That's not a quick fix, that's a longer-term strategy.

Robert Tressell
15 Posted 24/03/2021 at 17:13:18
Mike, I was thinking more those eligible for u23 rather than the actual u23 side. Pulisic, Reyna, Dest, McKennie etc. Probably the most talented group ever isn't it?

You're right though Danny, we will cope and there will still be transfers with the EU. The complications come with the work permits I guess. That will probably evolve but for the time being its more complicated to pick up players from France etc than it was.

Steavey Buckley
16 Posted 24/03/2021 at 17:38:43
When there was no Brexit, Everton were still effected by the home office rules with players from non EU countries who have to play in at least 75% of matches for the respective countries.

So any good young players from Africa and South America are still out of Everton's reach if they are just starting their careers.

These young type of players seem to end up in EU countries, who have no problems with home office rules.

Mike Gaynes
17 Posted 24/03/2021 at 17:39:14
Yep, Robert, and you can add to that list Chris Richards of Bayern, Reggie Cannon of Boavista, Yunus Musah at Valencia (who just chose the US over England, sorry), Konrad de la Fuente at Barca, Tyler Adams, Soto and Antonee Robinson, plus a guy named Ledesma at PSV, all of whom have the potential to be among the best ever for the USA at their positions. It really is a golden generation.

Some of the MLS prospects I'd love to see us pursue right now, before the Euro clubs get in on them, would be Caden Clark, Gianluca Busio and Paxton Pomykal. Remember those names. You'll see 'em in the summer transfers. Hopefully to us.

Danny O’Neill
18 Posted 24/03/2021 at 18:24:22
That's an interesting point Steavey because that would suggest it is within the UK's gift to change that. We have to figure out how we transfer players with EU countries moving forward, but like with other business I am confident that can be worked out. You don't go from being totally aligned one day to polar opposites the next so only political stubbornness and sulking can get in the way of that surely.

There is also an interesting cultural and linguistic dynamic. Traditionally, the South Americans go to Portugal and Spain. North Africans to France and Croatians typically to Italy (geographically) or Germany (historical alliance / relationship).

Steavey Buckley
19 Posted 24/03/2021 at 18:30:05
Ultimately, the home office decides who can be granted a visa to work in the UK, but are being leaned on by the FA to restrict as many foreign players as possible, which only helps the bigger clubs, who can pay the bigger asking price for players who regularly play for their international teams. So Brexit does Everton No favors, but the neighbors across the park.
Jerome Shields
20 Posted 25/03/2021 at 19:19:51
Its only when transfers are attempted that the impact will be realised. Big Sam won't be the only one to find out that rules have changed.

I was talking to a Export Manager this week, she said that she had did everything possible to prepare for Brexit, but found in practise that the situations she now faces where unpreparable for. Work Permits where a thorny issue before Brexit.

Derek Moore
21 Posted 26/03/2021 at 12:45:50
Young Caden Clark would be exactly the sort of Brands signing I'd be excited about. I don't watch a lot of MLS, but this kid really looks like he has something special about him.
Gavin McGarvey
22 Posted 03/04/2021 at 17:51:00
I would have thought the main impact of Brexit would already be being felt, and that is the drop in value of the pound. That makes our players cheaper for many countries to sign and other countries' players more expensive.

That also makes it more economical to develop home grown players, but unless we see a decrease in the quality of our football, it won't necessarily make it easier for clubs to play them at first team level.

Whether we sign less players will be dependant on the attitudes within government. We will be a third party country to the EU so that will complicate deals to some degree perhaps (although they are already complicated already as I understand), but will leave deals to sign players from non-EU countries as they were. As noted above, the only reason that would change is if the government decided to change it.

I would imagine that the government would quite like to restrict the number of foreign players. They seem quite keen on a 1950's view of England, and I can confidently predict the revival of jumpers for goalposts, the birch, and limit of foreign players within squads. If nothing else it will distract people from the rising levels of unemployment.

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