The post-Brexit shakeup of the English football transfer market


Our team: Thomas Edwards, Alan Wetterhahn


A new plan for the recruitment and transfer of international football players has been announced which could have a huge impact on the dominance of the English Premier League (EPL). The plan is to be introduced after the UK formally exits the EU and the transition period ends on 1 January 2021 and will apply to all football transfer windows starting in January 2021.

The plan, jointly agreed by The Football Association (FA), the EPL and the English Football League (EFL), sets out the various entry requirements for overseas players post-Brexit and imposes new work permit rules and restrictions on the transfer of players aged under 18. In this article, we summarise the key takeaways, and look at the motivation behind the plan.

Governing body endorsement (GBE)

English clubs will not, post-Brexit, be able to sign players freely from the EU (those clubs are currently able to do so under the EU freedom of movement rules). Post-Brexit, players from EU countries who want to play in the EPL or the EFL will be required to obtain a GBE, like all other non-EU overseas players without the right to work in the UK are currently required to do.

GBEs work on a points-based system, and are generally more favourable to more established international players. The new system could therefore have a huge impact on international youth recruitment by EPL and EFL teams (more on that below).

GBE points are based on:

  • number of senior and youth international appearances;
  • quality of the selling club, based on the league they are in, league position and progression in continental competition; and
  • club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes.

If a player reaches the requisite number of points, based on the above criteria, then they will automatically earn a GBE.

Any players just below the threshold (no margins for what ‘just below’ means have yet been provided) may be considered for a GBE by an Exceptions Panel (which currently has powers to award a GBE pursuant to a subjective review based on evidence submitted by the purchasing club or otherwise requested by the panel).

Under 18s

Under the FIFA rules, which sit outside of the new plan, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean that clubs will not be able to sign players from overseas until they are 18 (as the UK will no longer form part of the EU/EEA exception).  That is likely to have a significant impact on EPL youth recruitment where those kinds of players are currently often recruited at an early age and then loaned out to various clubs to increase their development and value.

The plan proposed by the FA, EPL and EFL further stipulates that the number of overseas U21 players a club can sign will be limited to three in the 2021 January transfer window and six per season moving forwards.

Motivations

There is no doubt that the proposed plan has been put in place, at least in part, to encourage English clubs to produce more home-grown talent (in the last few seasons domestic players have made up only around 30% of all EPL players).

The FA clearly believes that the new rules will allow clubs to remain competitive and will complement the development philosophy of the best foreign talent alongside the best home-grown players. There is also some merit in clubs developing talent internally rather than relying on their purchasing power, which has seen some huge transfer fees paid in recent years, which clearly are not financially sustainable in the current climate.

Notably, the FA plans to review the rules, so it will be interesting to see what the feedback is from clubs following the January transfer window.

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