Could Brexit be a positive step for the national game?

One of the main concerns of The FA is England’s success at an international level, and therefore, it has a vested interest in ensuring that young English players have the opportunity to develop and thrive in the Premier League. It is, however, notable that the percentage of English players in the Premier League has dropped consistently in recent years to the current level of approximately 30 per cent. One of the methods, which has been used by The FA to re-dress the balance has been the introduction of the ‘Home Grown Player Rule’.

A "Home Grown Player" means a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21). Importantly, it does not mean that they have to be English. Two examples of foreign Home Grown Players are Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas who was registered with Arsenal and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba. However, on the whole Home Grown Players tend to be domestic talent given the likelihood of them having trained at a young age with local club or at least in England or Wales.

The FA’s concern with strengthening the national team is of course in direct competition with Premier League clubs’ focus on building the strongest possible squad, regardless of nationality, and a very delicate balance is struck with the current regulatory system.

Up until now, The FA has made efforts to reverse this trend through tightening restrictions on work permits for non-EU footballers. However in light of the UK’s ‘divorce’ from the EU, The FA has opted to leverage its influence over the recruitment of EU players going forward in an effort to push through its restrictions on the recruitment of foreign players generally.

The FA initially attempted to do this by tabling plans to reduce by five, the number of non-Home Grown Players’ in Premier League squads from 17 to 12 after Brexit, whilst allowing concessions on the grant of work permits, or Governing Body Endorsements (“GBE’s”). Therefore, if it had been agreed, over half of every clubs’ 25-man squad must be made up of Home Grown Players. Premier League clubs rejected this proposal on 15 November 2018. However, like the Government’s Brexit negotiations, this is not the end of the matter, particularly as The FA is in a strong bargaining position..

We understand that The FA has since warned clubs that if the proposal is not accepted, all new, non-Home Grown players (including EU players) will have to comply with the strict immigration criteria that is currently applied to non-EU players to obtain a GBE (for details of the GBE process and criteria, please see our Reevaldo article).

As quoted by the BBC in a recent survey it conducted[i]f the GBE rules for players from the EU were the same as the current ones for non-EU players, 152 players – about 25% of the total would definitely not get GBEs.” Whilst similar to Greg Dykes’ proposal in 2014 (notably to reduce the number of ‘non-Home Grown Players to 13), this attempt was unsuccessful, being blocked by the Premier League clubs. This time, however, as previously mentioned the proposal came with the sweetener that if accepted, all foreign players will be granted GBEs without the application of strict criteria which would otherwise apply.

In a statement The FA said:

The FA has proposed a pragmatic post-Brexit solution to Premier League clubs. The proposal would allow the same current access to European players and reduce governing body endorsement requirements for non-European players to the same levels. “In return for this improved access, The FA would like to ensure that the league collectively does not exceed the current number of around 260 non-homegrown players in the league - this is equivalent to 13 players per club. The FA believes increasing access, but preventing an increase in current numbers of overseas players, would benefit all of English football.”

Meanwhile, a recent statement issued by the Premier League stated:

There is no evidence that stronger quotas than exist now would have a positive impact on national teams…Brexit should not be used to weaken playing squads in British football, nor to harm clubs’ ability to sign international players.

Our competition is watched in 189 countries, 700,000 visitors to the UK per season attend a match, clubs employ 12,000 full-time staff and Premier League football generates £3.3bn per season in taxes.

We have a positive working relationship with The FA and will continue to have constructive discussions with them, and other stakeholders.

As it stands there are five teams who have the maximum number of non-Home Grown Players in their squads; Brighton, Huddersfield Town, Manchester City, Tottenham and Watford and a total of 13 squads have more than the potential limit of 12. The teams who would not be affected by any such change include: Bournemouth (with only five non-Home Grown players), Burnley, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Everton, Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In the long term, any such steps to restrict the influx of foreign talent, albeit indirectly, will make it much harder for clubs to sign foreign players and could force them to look closer to home for the next generation of players. In theory, this should benefit the national team as young English players will be more likely to be given the chance to compete at the highest level as clubs invest in the development of Home Grown Players.

In the coming months there will be ongoing discussions about the future landscape for the recruitment of players and it will be interesting to see the outcome of such negotiations.

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