On 23rd June 2016, the British public took part in a referendum to decide whether it would stay in or leave the European Union. As the results filtered in, it became apparent that The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be leaving the EU. Understandably, this has created an uncertain political, social and economic atmosphere in the British Isles. To understand what Brexit could mean for English football, guest writer Will Jones takes a closer look at some of the potential economic and legal changes that would affect the Premier League.
The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election. At the final count, the ‘Remain’ campaign was defeated in the depths of time added-on by 48.1% to 51.9%. The vote also led Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his plans to step down. There are undoubtedly going to be huge ramifications for the Eurozone when this promise to act on the public will is carried out, even though it may take up to three years for the effects to be felt. Businesses particularly, in terms of trade and labor, will surely be some of the most affected.
But, what does this mean for our football clubs? “The Premier League is a hugely successful sporting competition that has strong domestic and global appeal. This will continue to be the case regardless of the referendum result,” said a Premier League statement. “Given the uncertain nature of what the political and regulatory landscape might by following the ‘Leave’ vote, there is little point in second guessing the implications until there is greater clarity. Clearly, we will work with the government and other bodies whatever the outcome of any process.”
The UK’s membership to the EU is undoubtedly a positive on both sides of the English channel. In football terms, the free movement of labor within the European market place has meant that players can easily be transferred to and from Britain to any EU member without the need for lengthily visa applications and red tape. The chairman of the FA, Richard Scudamore, clearly saw the benefit to English football of membership to the EU on. He campaigned on behalf of the losing ‘remain’ side of the referendum.
“The main reason we have concluded that Remain is best, is because of our outlook,” Scudamore said. “We are a global export. We look outwards. We are open to the world and do business with the world. Really, when it comes down to it, you’ve just got to decide are we better being open? Are we better acting like we want to play our part in the world and be worldly citizens or do we want to send a signal to the world that says actually we’re kind of pulling the drawbridge up here. We’re going to take control of our own destiny.”
“Well, that doesn’t seem to sit very well when you travel the world like we do, being welcomed because of the fact that we are open for business, open for discussion, and open for cooperation. There is an openness about the Premier League which I think it would be completely incongruous if we were to take the opposite position.”
In the aftermath of the ‘Leave’ decision the news has sent exchange rates into flux, stock markets haywire and shrouded nearly the entire economic landscape of the world in a sad and depressing state of uncertainty. Against the dollar, the pound sterling fell to its lowest point since 1985 as the referendum result wrought such havoc on world markets that it depreciated the UK’s currency significantly. Today, the Premier League is an attractive prospect for potential foreign owners because of the sheer amount of money it generates. A weaker pound could possibly result in a growth of the foreign ownership that has been witnessed over the past decade.
However, in terms of buying players from top divisions such as La Liga in Spain or the Bundesliga, a weaker currency is a serious disadvantage. The British pound has decreased so dramatically in value that a potential £60 million transfer from Real Madrid to the ELP would increase to £67 million. On top of the increased transfer fees, contracts will cost Premier League clubs more if they are negotiated in euros. For example, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 250,000 GBP per week salary is now worth about 21,000 pounds less. If he had signed on to Mourinho’s Manchester United a month later, it would have cost the club a lot more money. These changes could potentially offset the spending power granted by the radically increased television revenue received by the new deal.
When it comes to the movement of players from Europe to the English Premier League, it could now mean that theoretically players from outside Great Britain would have to apply for a work permit to do so. Just like current non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) players have to. The restrictions for non-EU nationalized players state that they must have been played a certain amount of games for the national team over a specific period. The amount of game-time needed for a foreign player to qualify for a work permit is dependent on the FIFA ranking of the country they belong to. The numbers below show the new work permit laws passed in March 2015 by the FA with regards to the FIFA ranking of the players nation and the percentage of games they must play to gain the work permit:
For a nation ranked 1-10 by FIFA, at least 30% of national team appearances is necessary
For a nation ranked 10-20 by FIFA, at least 45% of national team appearances is necessary
For a nation ranked 21-30 by FIFA, at least 60% of national team appearances is necessary
For a nation ranked 31-50 by FIFA, at least 75% of national team appearances is necessary
Without the UK’s membership to the EU, signings such as N’Golo Kante to Leicester City and West Ham’s Dimitri Payet would not have been possible given their previous lack of appearances for France. Additionally, Article 19 of the FIFA rulebook prohibits the transfers of players under 18-years-old. This rule does not apply to transfers made within the European market place, but Brexit could spell the end of British clubs’ purchases of youngsters from mainland Europe. In the near future, Arsene Wenger’s famed shrewdness for players like Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin could become worthless to Arsenal.
These changes are still technically theoretical, and can only be implemented after an exit strategy is ironed out between the UK and Europe. In reality, there are still a couple of years before Britain officially leaves the EU, and another few years before the restrictions start to affect the dealings of English football clubs. However, if the UK is unwilling to maintain the free movement of EU citizens, as well as the trade agreements it has with European nations, there is a real prospect that English football will be left further behind its continental counterparts.
The next Cristiano Ronaldo could very realistically move to Madrid from Lisbon, without a stopover in the British Isles. And that is a crying shame, because the home of football deserves to play host to the world’s best players.