New rules divide local agents

Local agents are divided on the impact that a proposed change to the rules to restrict the amount of foreigners playing in England would have on Australian football.

English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke put forward a proposal in September, which would limit the amount of non-European players in the English league system.

Australians without EU passports would not be allowed to join clubs lower than the English Premier League and it would be harder for them to play in the top flight as well, with players from national teams below FIFA’s top 50 rankings no longer getting automatic visas even if they’ve played enough international games.

Currently, there are more than 50 Australians playing in the UK, 26 of which are situated with Premier League clubs at differing age groups.

Player agent Leo Karis believes that there are other leagues in Europe and Asia, as well as the A-League, that can assist in the development of Australian players if the proposal is accepted.

“The UK is not the only development pathway,” he said. 

“I would prefer to see Australian players playing regularly in European leagues like Belgium, Holland, Switzerland or Asian leagues like K-League and J-League than lower leagues in other countries.

“For every Kewell, Cahill, Lazaridis who were beneficiaries of the English game, there are examples of others like Zelic, Okon, Agostino, Kruse, Mat Ryan that went down another path.  

“I think in the short term this proposal could work in our favour – it is probably better for some Australian footballers who ignore non-UK markets in preference for the bright lights of the EPL, to now consider a smaller club in a smaller league.”

Ritchie Hinton, director of The Pitch Management, believes the change wouldn’t matter greatly to Australia because it only impacts non-EU players and it really only represents a tightening of the existing rules.

“Those most impacted will be non-elite, so therefore not of most consequence to national team,” he said.

“So any old journeyman or disenchanted/overlooked National Youth League/A-League reject with an EU passport can still go and try and jag a $200 a week contract in the Conference or League Two if he wants.

“EU employment laws allow anyone with an EU passport to move freely between member nations and enjoy full working rights in those countries.

“Current UK rules already ban non-EU players from playing in the UK, unless they were playing for a top 70 club and had participated in 75% of their nation's senior internationals in the last two years. 

“However, the system has been undermined by an overly lenient appeals tribunal, which basically sees the tribunal read a reference from a 'respected' judge, such as a coach with a vested interest in bringing him in, saying that he's better - read 'cheaper' – than they get locally and will add to their team, etc and the tribunal has granted an exemption.

“Scotland in particular has a particular lax appeal system – Tom Rogic is a good example. He had played around six games for Australia, mostly against the might of Guam, Hong Kong in the lofty East Asian Cup when granted his exemption after a letter from Neil Lennon.”

The idea of Dyke’s proposal is to help strengthen the English national team and give young English players more opportunities at local clubs. Under the proposal Socceroo skipper Mile Jedinak’s transfer to Crystal Palace when they were in the Championship in 2011 would have been affected.

The English FA hopes to gain final approvement from the British government on the non-EU player restrictions in time for the 2015-2016 season.

According to the FA, under the new guidelines 57 of the 122 non-EU players that were given visas between 2009 and 2013 would not have been granted.

Jon-Paul Michail, Football Projects Manager at FIA Sports Management, believes the rule change would be a blow for Australian footballers “both young and experienced alike”.

“It’s every young footballer’s dream to play in the big leagues in Europe, but if they aren’t able to play in England, where do they go?” he said.

“Holland is the highest profile nations Australians are enjoying success outside of the UK at the moment. But look at the other three big leagues: Germany, Italy, Spain and France, Australia’s representation is the lowest it has been in many years.

“If this movement passes in England, it won’t be long before other European nations take similar action. If things continue the way they’re going in Europe, it won’t be long before young Australians are dreaming of playing in places like Japan, Korea, China or even the Middle East and Thailand.

“Many are already opting for these destinations over playing in the smaller European leagues. It’s moves like the one being touted in England that will only strengthen Asian football, but it won’t help Australians who dream of European careers.”

According to football agent Chris Tanner, England has always been a tough market for Australian players to crack and believes sending a player there without an EU passport “is a poor bet anyway”. 

“There are other quality Euro leagues where developing players can go, and often they are learning better technique,” he said. 

“Belgium for example is very foreigner-friendly. England have slowly learned they are not the centre of the football universe anymore, and the 2014 World Cup was the final straw for many. 

“I think the reforms are on the right track, but I can recall where a number of smart, younger football brains proposed changes some time back, and they weren’t accepted, so who knows whether they will finally move forward with a plan, or if the dinosaurs in the FA boardroom will stay stuck firm in the past?

“Portugal, France, Spain and Germany are far better moulders of technical talent, and the view in England now is that they need to catch up.  It will be interesting to see if change happens.”