The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated our lives for much of 2020, but as we were reminded earlier this week, Brexit is still a thing and still a thing that’s happening and still a thing that’s happening fairly soon. In fact, the UK are set to officially leave the European Union at the end of this month and year, when the “transition period” ends on December 31, 2020.
Political and economic and societal issues aside, the one aspect of this massive change that will most certainly impact our football lives is what the Premier League’s calling “access to talent” — i.e. access to “foreign” talent. The Premier League may be an “English” (and Welsh sometimes) league, with English (and Welsh sometimes) teams in it, but it’s most certainly a worldwide league, not just in terms of fandom but in terms of the talent on display.
The Premier League is the most watched league in the world not because of where its teams are based, but because it has the best players (and the best marketing). That was the case with Serie A in the ‘90s, and that’s the case now with the Premier League, and that will be the case in the future for whatever league as well. Having (easy) access to the best talent made the Premier League what it is today; if that access is revoked or made harder, that may change. It may not change our love for Chelsea, but this isn’t a team-specific issue. (Though I’m certainly not complaining about getting to see the best players in the world playing for Chelsea.)
When the UK leave the EU, every non-English (well, non-UK) player will need a work permit — or a “Governing Body Endorsement” (GBE) to use proper terminology. Previously, work permits or GBEs were only needed for players outside of the EU (or in certain exceptions, for players from countries who weren’t yet full members of the EU like Croatia for a while). Now, every single non-UK player will need one.
Fortunately, work permit or GBE rules will also be changing when Brexit hits. The FA may not always be best friends with the Premier League, but in this case, it benefits both sides to make things easier.
Work permits will still be awarded on a points-based system, but players will earn points a lot easier now. Whereas previously foreign players were largely judged on involvement with their national teams, now GBEs will also consider involvement with club teams (and an appropriately high level — i.e. top European leagues).
The threshold for automatic endorsements is also being lowered. Before, a player needed to participate in 75 per cent of his country’s matches in the previous two years, and that country needed to be ranked on average 70th or higher by FIFA. If that criteria wasn’t met, a review board could assign points based on things like transfer fees, wages, and club level matches. While that system, introduced in 2015, could easily be gamed by big teams (such as Chelsea with Kenedy and the £10m rule), it avoided murkier scenarios like Chelsea being awarded a work permit for Willian in 2013 based on little more than whimsy.
In the new rules, the auto-endorsement will be a sliding scale based on national team rankings and a player’s percentage of involvement. For example, 30 per cent involvement will be enough for an automatic work permit for a player from a top 10 FIFA nation. That means that the next Kai Havertz, who was involved in only about 50 per cent of Germany’s matches in the two years prior to signing with Chelsea, would be automatically granted a work permit in the new regulations (the threshold for teams ranked 11-20 by FIFA is 40 per cent).
Should a player not qualify for an auto-pass, the new system will start assigning points based on national team and club level involvement. This is a massive quagmire of tables and charts, which you can peruse at your leisure here, but suffice to say that as long as Premier League teams continue to sign players from top European leagues, we will see no practical impact on our transfers.
To earn a GBE, a player will need to collect 15 points. To use Havertz as the example again, he would earn the maximum 12 points for playing in at least 90 per cent of his team’s domestic games in a “Band 1” league (Band 1 leagues are the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, and Ligue 1), and a further 5 points for playing in at least 90 per cent of his team’s continental games in a “Band 2” competition like the Europa League (Band 1 continental competitions only include the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores). That already would give him 17 points, and that’s before we’d consider his actual national team involvement or his club team’s success, which now also counts, and assigns points based on trophies and final league positions.
It’s a complicated system, but one that should make work permits very easy to earn. Players who earn 15 points would get their GBEs automatically, and even those just under that total would be eligible for a review by an Exceptions Panel.
(Should a player be eligible for two different points bands in a given category, they would get the higher of the two numbers, just to illustrate how nice and enabling this system is.)
That’s not to say there won’t be a tangible difference, but we will only see that at younger ages. Once out of the EU, Premier League teams will have to abide by FIFA’s no-international-transfers-for-U18s rule (no more Eurozone exception for 16- and 17-year-olds), and the number of such transfers will also be limited to just 6 per season (and just 3 in the January window coming up). This perhaps explains Chelsea’s (and other teams’) recent push to sign overseas youngsters, mainly from the Nordic regions.
Yeah exactly, except for this summer, when everyone went a bit nuts trying to get a few in before these rules came into effect. Would expect clubs to try to get deals in place before 31/12 to happen next summer if they can.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) December 1, 2020
There will also be special points that can be assigned to players aged 18-19, such as points assigned for youth international matches, to help facilitate their arrivals to the Premier League and ensure that the best talent eventually all filter in — while also keeping the domestic and homegrown pipelines open. (No change to the homegrown rules and squad requirements, at least not yet!)
In any case, you can read all the nitty-gritty details in the FA’s official rules, if you so choose. The main takeaway is that nothing’s really changing. Those who had free movement in the EU before will now practically all qualify for a work permit.
That’s assuming we all survive the pandemic, to which effect, the Premier League and the EFL have agreed a £250m bailout package, £50m of which will go to clubs in the two lower leagues (League 1 and League 2) and £200m will be made available to club in the Championship.