What will Brexit mean for football? Transfer trouble, FA joy... and chaos in Football Manager

Theresa May

Will Brexit deliver a golden age in British youth development or kickstart the decline of the Premier League? Huw Davies finds out

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The year is 2015. The scene: a large, yet stuffy meeting room. On one side of a desk sits a panel of FA bods in intimidatingly smart suits, who decide whether to approve a foreign player for a work permit from the Government.

On the other side of this desk sit the supplicants: a Premier League club seeking a permit for their prospective new signing. And outside this room, an alternative universe in which the United Kingdom had left the European Union years ago.

“So, this player’s French, is he? Has he played in 45 per cent of France’s competitive matches over the past two years?”

“Not quite, no.”

“How many’s he played?”

“Approximately none.”

“I see. Has he played in the Champions League?”

“No, he’s just completed his first top-flight season.”

“Right. In that case, we cannot grant you a Governing Body Endorsement under Tier 2 of the Home Office Points Based System.

Go and buy somebody else.”


“You can easily find a British midfielder who’s just as good. Who even is this guy? No one’s ever heard of... N’Golo Kante.”

This is a scene that could be commonplace after the real Brexit in this real universe.

An uncertain world

Admittedly, the reality is a lot less dramatic. There are no stand-offs in large, yet stuffy meeting rooms. Nobody knows for sure if the UK’s departure from the EU will result in British work permit rules being the same as they are now for players from nations outside the European Economic Area, or the EEA (more on that to come later). And Kante could well have been granted entry after appeal.

It’s far from certain, however, that the PFA Player of the Year could have joined Leicester City under Brexit rules. As for the previous winner, Riyad Mahrez, recruited from the French second division – forget about it. And what of Kante’s current Chelsea colleagues? Well, wave goodbye to Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta and a few more.

Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez's journey from French second tier to Premier League be possible?

Yet FourFourTwo can reveal that the footballing fallout from Brexit potentially goes much further. Discussions have been dominated by fears foreign stars may stop flocking to the Premier League, but that is only one scenario. Hiring backroom staff may become a nightmare, or a financial crisis could cause lucrative television deals to implode. Alternatively, there’s a chance England could become a half-decent team once again. Anything’s possible.

If every EU footballer currently in the Premier League applied for a work permit tomorrow, then 75 per cent of them would initially fail

Brexit could play out in an almost infinite number of ways. The most significant changes to trade and immigration would likely come in the event of ‘hard Brexit’. This has prompted a mixture of intrigue, excitement and sheer bloody terror. The UK is currently bound by laws allowing freedom of movement for workers in the EU, which is why Nigel Farage wakes up each morning in a cold, beery sweat.

That’ll change when prime minister Theresa May exercises the UK’s freedom of movement from the EU. Many people predict that Britain-bound players from the 30 other EEA countries (every EU nation as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) will need to meet the same requirements for a work permit as other imports.

These requirements are tough, too. If every EU footballer currently in the Premier League applied for a work permit tomorrow, then 75 per cent of them would initially fail. Don’t panic: no one will be forced to leave. But take this sample as a basis for future transfers and you lose 121 of the 164 players coming in. And down in the Championship, just three of the 161 EU players meet the criteria: two Irishmen and Romanian Reading winger, Adrian Popa.

Why? Because in 2015 the FA tightened regulations on non-EEA players, and before they’ll endorse one for a work permit from the Home Office, they measure his country’s aggregated FIFA ranking over two seasons – FIFA rankings a famously accurate indicator of quality – and calculate his importance.