How the Premier League’s Big Six COULD look after the Brexit apocalypse
In effect, Premier League clubs would have two years to prepare for such a scenario. January 2021 is seemingly the soonest any post-Brexit change can be implemented (assuming we haven’t all died of tedium by then), so with long-term contracts to manage, the process of building a squad with more homegrown players could begin in earnest.
Let’s say that process does start now. Over the next few transfer windows, what could the Premier League’s Big Six do to prepare themselves? Well...
* Denotes non-homegrown player.
Keep: Ederson, Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy, Fernandinho, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero
Sell: Claudio Bravo, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala, Philippe Sandler, Danilo, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ilkay Gundogan
Buy: Jack Butland, Yuri Berchiche, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Adrien Rabiot*, Lewis Cook
Pep Guardiola’s squad needs future-proofing in midfield more than anything else. His search this year for an eventual Fernandinho replacement bore no fruit, and the Brazilian has such a vital role in freeing up David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne – allowing Manchester City to play what is in essence a 4-1-4-1 – that he can’t be the only real option there next season, when he’ll be 34.
Unfortunately there don’t appear to be many homegrown alternatives at the level required, so City – who would have to lose half a dozen overseas players in this post-Brexit scenario – would surely have to look abroad. Adrien Rabiot, 10 years’ Fernandinho’s junior (and once a player in City's academy), has been linked and could be a sound investment, especially with his PSG contract about to expire.
But who leaves to make room, without removing City’s depth? Vincent Kompany’s status as a club legend doesn’t stop him from being their fourth-best centre-back at a time when Cameron Humphreys-Grant and Tosin Adarabioyo are showing promise, while solid squad members such as Ilkay Gundogan and Danilo would be at risk if Guardiola was prepared to show faith in English youth, such as Lewis Cook, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and City’s own Phil Foden.
Yuri Berchiche, left-back for Athletic, is more experienced but an unexpected homegrown option.
Goalkeepers: Butland, Ederson, Muric
Centre-backs: Adarabioyo, Humphreys-Grant, Laporte, Otamendi, Stones
Full-backs: Berchiche, Mendy, Walker, Wan-Bissaka
Midfielders: Cook, De Bruyne, Delph, Fernandinho, Foden, Rabiot, B Silva, D Silva
Forwards: Aguero, Jesus, Mahrez, Sané, Sterling
Keep: David de Gea, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial
Sell: Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini, Alexis Sanchez
Buy: Kalidou Koulibaly*, Djibril Sidibe*, Kieran Tierney*, James Maddison, Hirving Lozano*
Where to start with a squad that juxtaposes underperforming stars with limited but reliable old warhorses? Anyone could leave, especially as Jose Mourinho has fallen out with almost all of them at some point.
Assuming Mourinho isn’t their manager in 2021, Manchester United can afford to lose Marouane Fellaini. Conversely, their recent banishment doesn’t make Eric Bailly (24) or Fred (25) bad footballers for evermore. Besides, the priority is selling Chris Smalling to Everton – it’s going to happen eventually – and replacing 33-year-olds Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia with players who aren’t Matteo Darmian or Marcos Rojo.
Alex Sandro is a target but an intriguing long-term option to compete with Luke Shaw could be 21-year-old Kieran Tierney, although he too is not considered homegrown. The Celtic left-back is a real prospect who can also operate in central defence, and his lower price would leave United with the funds to buy Djibril Sidibe on the other side, while landing the elite centre-back they need: Napoli’s justifiably pricey Kalidou Koulibaly.
Ed Woodward will spend big as long as there’s resale value, which is where he clashes with Perisic-loving, Godin-chasing Mourinho. Going all in on 22-year-old James Maddison, therefore, could be a way to reinvigorate United’s attack, as he’s ready yet offers exciting potential, while Hirving Lozano (23) is performing consistently well for PSV and Mexico.
But while United’s squad does require upheaval, being restricted to 13 overseas players wouldn’t pose a problem. Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba unexpectedly qualify as homegrown, although Diogo Dalot (an under-21 right now) won’t from the 2020/21 season onwards. Although Sergio Romero is a reliable reserve goalkeeper, the domestically-trained pair of Joel Castro Pereira and Dean Henderson – currently out on loan – should soon be competing for second place. Lee Grant can do a Stuart Taylor in his dotage.
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Grant, Henderson, J C Pereira
Centre-backs: Bailly, Jones, Koulibaly, Lindelof, Tuanzebe
Full-backs: Dalot, Fosu-Mensah, Shaw, Sidibe, Tierney
Midfielders: Fred, Herrera, Maddison, Mata, Matic, McTominay, A Pereira, Pogba
Forwards: Lingard, Lozano, Lukaku, Martial, Rashford
Keep: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Antonio Rudiger, Kurt Zouma, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Willian, Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud
Sell: Willy Caballero, Eduardo, Matt Miazga, Tomas Kalas, Baba Rahman, Emerson Palmieri, Davide Zappacosta, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Mateo Kovacic (end of loan), Marco van Ginkel, Mario Pasalic, Kenedy, Pedro, Michy Batshuayi
Buy: John Ruddy, Sime Vrsaljko*, Eberechi Eze
Although they have more overseas players than Manchester United, even before you consider those out on loan (some of whom are mentioned above), Chelsea would be easier to fix if push came to shove because they have excellent young club-trained players; just ask Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s supporters.
As well as Loftus-Cheek, who hasn’t started a league game for Chelsea since Guus Hiddink was in charge, Mason Mount is ready for the Premier League and Ethan Ampadu probably is, too – Antonio Conte certainly thought so. Trevoh Chalobah is another with potential, and promoting the excellent Fikayo Tomori would allow Gary Cahill to shuffle off, especially with forgotten man Kurt Zouma having impressed on loan at Everton. Full-back Jay Dasilva would be a domestic alternative to the squad-bloating Emerson Palmieri.
Of course, this is Chelsea. Few, if any, youngsters would be promoted even if the FA did limit their foreign intake. The ruling wouldn’t stop them stockpiling young overseas players and loaning them out before selling them on for a profit, whether or not they arrive early enough to be considered homegrown. Chelsea don’t need to sell Pasalic, Miazga & Co., nor the club-trained likes of Lucas Piazon, when they could send them on loan instead. Tomas Kalas is 25 now and contracted to Chelsea until he’s 28. He seems fine with it.
But back in the first team, keeping a young British contingent would allow Chelsea to jettison space-wasters, move on the older players (Pedro) and cut their losses on purchases that haven’t worked out (Michy Batshuayi, Tiemoué Bakayoko). And that’s just the overseas players – the Blues could lose Danny Drinkwater, Cesc Fabregas and Victor Moses among those trained in England. Buy Sime Vrsaljko – unwanted by Atletico – as an auxiliary full-back, sign Eberechi Eze for the future and replace Willy Caballero with John Ruddy – job’s a good’un.
Goalkeepers: Kepa, Blackman,, Ruddy
Centre-backs: Christensen, Luiz, Rudiger, Tomori, Zouma
Full-backs: Alonso, Azpilicueta, J Dasilva, Vrsaljko
Midfielders: Ampadu, Barkley, T Chalobah, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Mount
Forwards: Abraham, Eze, Giroud, Hazard, Hudson-Odoi, Morata, Willian
Keep: Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Andrew Robertson, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum, Xherdan Shaqiri, Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino
Sell: Simon Mignolet, Loris Karius, Adam Bogdan, Alberto Moreno, Allan, Marko Grujic, Lazar Markovic, Divock Origi
Buy: Asmir Begovic, Nicolas Tagliafico*
Liverpool are in good shape for any limit on overseas players. They used only 16 of the 17 permitted slots when naming this season’s squad, and at the time that included poor old Loris Karius, who has since been sent to Turkey for two years.
If it seems drastic to suggest letting go of three goalkeepers, having already sold Danny Ward, it also seems wasteful to have one occupying an overseas slot when Alisson is a clear first choice. By January 2021, Kamal Grabara will be 22 and Kai McKenzie-Lyle 23; they could eventually deputise if they gain loan experience first while Simon Mignolet is at the club. The safer bet would be to bring in a reliable homegrown option. Peter Gulacsi, flying at RB Leipzig, has presumably had his fill of Liverpool, but perhaps Asmir Begovic could be persuaded in time to reprise his Chelsea role.
There needn’t be an exodus of first-team players, although the list above could be bolstered by Danny Ings and possibly Nathaniel Clyne, seeing as Fabinho and Joe Gomez are good stand-ins at right-back. One question is whether Liverpool’s talented kids are talented enough: Harry Wilson may be, but the jury’s out on Ben Woodburn, Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo.
Goalkeepers: Alisson, Begovic, Grabara
Centre-backs: Gomez, Lovren, Matip, Van Dijk
Full-backs: Alexander-Arnold, Clyne, Robertson, Tagliafico
Midfielders: Fabinho, Henderson, Keita, Lallana, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wijnaldum
Forwards: Firmino, Mané, Salah, Shaqiri, Solanke, Sturridge, Wilson, Brewster
Keep: Bernd Leno, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Sead Kolasinac, Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi, Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette
Sell: Petr Cech, David Ospina, Nacho Monreal, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Mohamed Elneny, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Takumo Asano
Buy: Freddie Woodman, Reece James, Raphael Guerreiro*, Tom Davies, Ademola Lookman
Arsenal would be in decent shape if the FA’s Brexapocalypse happened tomorrow, but it’s slated to be in 2021 if at all, by which time Matteo Guendouzi and Konstantinos Mavropanos will no longer be under-21s. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are several candidates to leave, from the declining (Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nacho Monreal) to the already-declined (Petr Cech, Stephan Lichtsteiner).
There’s also a domestic axe to swing. Calum Chambers is arguably underrated and unarguably a Premier League player, but he seemingly isn’t an Arsenal player. Carl Jenkinson never should’ve been. Danny Welbeck’s latest injury could be the end of him – figuratively, anyway. Aaron Ramsey is halfway out of the door.
Everton’s 20-year-old Tom Davies would be suited to Ramsey’s get-ball-turn-on-ball-run-with-ball role whenever Arsenal need that option. Hector Bellerin has the right-back slot held down, so this could be the time to invest in 18-year-old Reece James, a European Under-19 Championship winner with England who is impressing on loan in the Championship and may soon realise that Chelsea rarely put faith in their academy products. Or, seeing as they should buy Ademola Lookman anyway, Arsenal could ask Everton to throw in Jonjoe Kenny as well. No? Suit yourselves. At left-back, Raphael Guerreiro would be an excellent upgrade and another option in midfield.
The goalkeeping situation is, again, awkward: Emiliano Martinez possibly merits promotion from third-choice to second-choice, but he and Matt Macey are 26 and 24 respectively and must surely be ending their big-club apprenticeships soon. Freddie Woodman, 21, is highly-rated but unused at Newcastle; he could be tempted by the promise of learning from the best, playing some games in Europe and pushing for the No.1 jersey in a couple of years’ time.
Goalkeepers: Leno, Martinez, Woodman
Centre-backs: Holding, Koscielny, Mavropanos, Mustafi, Papastathopoulos
Full-backs: Bellerin, Guerreiro, James, Kolasinac
Midfielders: Davies, Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil
Forwards: Aubameyang, Iwobi, Lacazette, Lookman, Nelson, Nketiah, Smith Rowe
Keep: Paulo Gazzaniga, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Serge Aurier, Victor Wanyama, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura
Sell: Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Moussa Sissoko, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, Fernando Llorente, Vincent Janssen
Buy: Peter Gulacsi, Marvin Plattenhardt*, Declan Rice, Philip Billing, Raul Jimenez*
Hear us out. Hugo Lloris, captain, has served Spurs well since replacing Brad Friedel (it was that long ago). But his performance levels are dipping, his errors increasing – and then there’s the other thing. With Paulo Gazzaniga taking every opportunity he’s given, and RB Leipzig’s Peter Gulacsi a homegrown candidate worth considering, cash-poor Spurs could sell Lloris sooner rather than later.
And they would have work to do in a limited-foreigners scenario. That’s not a description of Moussa Sissoko, though his performance against Chelsea did belie his previous… well, career. He’d be one candidate to leave as Spurs are at the current limit of 17 overseas players, which doesn’t include Vincent Janssen, nor Juan Foyth, who’ll be a senior squad member in 2020.
Fortunately there’s detritus to sieve out – including Janssen. He and Fernando Llorente have shown Tottenham’s struggle to find a striker who can do Harry Kane’s job without expecting regular football, as leading the line with Lucas Moura or Son Heung-min can work but necessitates a tactical change. Raul Jimenez, expert at bringing others into play, could be one to chase.
Restructuring the midfield is a looming issue, assuming Spurs lose at least two of Sissoko, the injury-ravaged Victor Wanyama and the tragically-fading Mousa Dembele. The academy has talented midfielders in the making but they won’t all follow Harry Winks into first-team contention.
Two homegrown defensive midfielders worth a look are Declan Rice and Philip Billing, who’d be ripe for improvement under Mauricio Pochettino. Rice covers two positions, which could even tempt Spurs to sell Eric Dier, who has stalled somewhat and doesn’t meet the homegrown criteria.
That leaves space for one more overseas player. Spurs fans will tell you that Danny Rose and Ben Davies aren’t up to scratch; why not sell one and put the funds towards buying Hertha Berlin’s Marvin Plattenhardt? It’d make more sense than blowing the club’s budget on long-term target Jack Grealish, who’s excellent – but in the one position Spurs are well stocked.
Goalkeepers: Gazzaniga, Gulacsi, Whiteman
Centre-backs: Alderweireld, Carter-Vickers, Foyth, Sanchez, Vertonghen,
Full-backs: Aurier, Davies, Plattenhardt, Trippier, Walker-Peters
Midfielders: Amos, Billing, Dele, Oakley-Boothe, Onomah, Rice, Skipp, Wanyama, Winks
Forwards: Eriksen, Jimenez, Kane, Lamela, Lucas, Son