How Will Brexit Affect Football in Britain?
On June 23rd 2016, the British people made the historic decision to leave the European Union. The country - and indeed the whole of Europe - now faces an uncertain future. And this uncertainty has already reared its head at every level of football in Britain.
While the details of Brexit will take several months to emerge, it is clear that the implications for professional football in the home nations could be far-reaching. This news was not what the Premier League or its 20 clubs wanted to hear. But the Brexit bombshell may not be such bad news for other levels of British football.
The Premier League and Football League will feel an immediate effect
If a bilateral agreement with the EU on working regulations for players can’t be reached, every EU national coming to play professional football in Britain may need to satisfy the strict visa requirements already in place.
In short, players outside the EU will need to have played a minimum number of games for their country before being granted a work permit. The final decision on whether a work permit may be granted will be taken by the Home Office - in the way it is right now for players without an EU passport. If these rules already applied, the likes of David de Gea, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata would never have made their moves to the Premier League.
There are more than 400 players in the Premier League right now - with more on the way. Although bespoke agreements could be put in place by the UK government to make it easier for Premier League clubs to buy EU nationals, no one knows what lies ahead.
There is little doubt that the owners of the richest clubs in Britain will lobby the UK government and try to get special dispensation for EU nationals. However, there are some in the game who believe that reducing the number of cheap imports from Europe will give young, British players the chance to develop; a chance many aren’t afforded under the current system.
EU nationals will think twice about playing football in Britain
Inflated transfer fees in England force many professional clubs to look to the continent for value. But if a significant number of EU-born players decide they don’t want to negotiate the red tape involved in getting a work permit, clubs might struggle to make their budgets stretch.
Again, such a situation will force a lot of clubs to dip into their academies - and many in the game argue that this will have a positive effect on the quality of our home nation teams in the future.
British clubs won’t be able to ‘steal’ Europe’s top youth talent anymore
Under current EU regulations, clubs can sign up European youngsters at 16 - and give them time to develop in their home country before bringing them to the Premier League. This system is what allowed Arsene Wenger to sign and develop Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin.
After Brexit, Arsene Wenger may be forced to look closer to home for young talent - and many people would argue that doing so would be good for future England teams.
The Premier League may lose some of its power and influence
The Premier League is hands down the richest and most powerful domestic football league in the world. Just 20 teams now share more than £8billion in television rights, and they are able to benefit commerically from the huge television audiences that now tune into games every week.
Despite this wealth, the Premier League has failed to produce an England team that can compete on the world stage. Moreover, the financial dominance of the top tier - many would argue - is making it increasingly difficult for lower league teams in England to compete.
If Brexit means Premier League teams find it more difficult to sign European players, the competition could lose some of its appeal abroad. And if Sterling remains low, buying players from the EU will be a lot more expensive. These issues may loosen the stranglehold Premier League clubs have on football in England.
Of course, there are several downsides to Brexit where British football is concerned. The ‘Bosman’ rule regarding free agents is a European Court of Justice ruling, so British clubs wouldn’t be bound by it after Brexit. Unless specific provisions are made, British clubs may have to fork out for EU players at the end of their contracts - those same players would be free to clubs still in the European Union.
If a free travel area isn’t set up between the UK and the EU, fans travelling to watch their team in Europe may face added visa and travel costs. This could fundamentally affect both the Europa League and the Champions’ League.
There are months - if not years - of negotiations ahead, and no one really knows how Brexit will affect football in Britain. Your opinion may hinge on where you are on the football ladder. If you’re a Premier League executive or a Premier League club owner, you’re probably very worried right now. But if you’re a young British footballer with aspirations of playing for one of the Premier League’s elite teams, there’s a good chance that you’re now a little more optimistic about the future.