Editor’s note – The unforeseen consequences of the decision to leave the European Union are endless. Brexiteers will argue that the majority of these consequences will be beneficial to the nation, whilst others will certainly disagree. One of the consequences that has not been widely discussed during, and since, the referendum is the effects that Brexit will have on football. In this article, Edd explores this issue, arguing that football here in Britain will not be the same when we leave the EU.
Exploring the Effects of Brexit on English Football
After the recent announcement that Football Manager, the long running and successful simulation game, has decided to include a ‘Brexit’ option in its new game, allowing players to realise the implications that leaving the European Union will have on English football, now seems a good time to properly explore and attempt to break down the countless implications that this political decision could have on what many people would still like to think of as an uncomplicated sport, a hobby and a game. The type of Brexit could vary depending on the choice made meaning if one chose a hard-line approach then they would experience a Britain after a hard Brexit and the same would happen with the softer approaches taken. But this also represents what will happen in the UK in a few years’ time after we conclude our negotiations to leave the EU. The severity of this would obviously influence many factors of British football, with key areas being summarised to the movement of players and the rules the governing body the FA may have to put in place, as well as any financial implications on the clubs, due to the new weakness of the pound.
So, work permits. Something every football manager player has nightmares about, what if you find the next Pele, or the new Messi (even better than Franco di Santo), but he can’t come and play for your Gillingham side because he was unable to ‘obtain a visa’. Well, imagine this happening for players coming from the continent. The repercussions are obvious: we’d only have to go back to last seasons premier league and realise that arguably the two best players of last season would not even have been playing in our league. These are French midfielder N’Golo Kante (signed by Leicester from SM Caen for €8 million) or winger Riyad Mahrez (also signed by Leicester from Le Havre). At the time, neither of these players were considered ‘special talents’, so if it were not for the freedom of movement within the EU they both would most likely have been denied entry. This lessens the quality of the league as a whole and could even have proved the difference between relegation and winning the league, a significant impact, therefore. However, this is a worst case scenario: there are still ways for non-EU players to play in England, but these methods must be examined before concluding Brexit as it may mean an end of foreign talent.
One way of looking at the lessening of foreign talent is in fact a positive one, weird I know. But it only takes a glance at the recent record of the English football team (haven’t won a knockout game in a major tournament since 2006) to know that there are problems with our national team. One answer to this problem is to give young English players more of a chance in the Premier League. Yes Mahrez was brilliant, but the man who provides back up to him in the Leicester team-Demarai Gray from Birmingham consistently proves himself to be a quality player, and maybe if he was given the same chances as Mahrez he would succeed. However many consider this argument to be flawed in numerous ways. For a start it is quite simply the same argument many Brexiteers used; ‘they’re taking our jobs’. This however isn’t the case. For one, there are already rules in place to encourage home-grown players – Premier League squads must have no more than 17 players that aren’t home-grown. Also there is already a premium price on British players (look no further than the £35 million Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll in 2011), and so furthering the need for clubs to buy them would only put this up. In short we cannot blame other nations for our national teams problems, if clubs wanted English players at the right price they will buy them, the problem is they’re not always as good.
Another supposed positive with this work permit issue is that rational politicians should see the positive financial impact that the foreign talent in the Premier League and the revenue it has brings into our economy. Premier League television rights sold for £5.14 billion in the UK alone last year, and they have separate deals abroad. Reducing foreign imports would significantly reduce this, and therefore reduce the tax revenue available to the government. To prove this many experts do expect work permit rules to be watered down, as they are in non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway, so we can gain access to the single market. The unlikeliness of large work permit issues was further backed up by Dr Gregory Ioannidis, a senior law lecturer from Sheffield Hallam University, as he said he did not envisage “any serious problems and complications” in the short-term, if Britain left the European Union, and that it was “highly unlikely” any restrictions would apply retrospectively, at least not in the first 2-3 years, showing how common sense could prevail in the work permit department, and lead to a limited effect.
Another way Brexit could impact on the Premier League is through the inflation and devaluation of the pound it has caused. Players have begun to realise they are able to earn more money playing on the continent, and this has a rather larger impact than at first thought, as the unfortunate truth is that the reason many players join clubs in the Premier League is primarily for the money. Perhaps the most worrying evidence for this comes for Arsenal fans, as top stars Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both come to the end of their contracts their demands have seemingly gone up from a £180,000 a week salary to £250,000 a week, with the declining value of the pound seemingly one of the main factors. This will also affect transfer fees, as West Ham’s €40m offer to buy Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi was worth £31m when sent, but only days later equated to more than £34m. Overall the implications of this are obvious, the quality of the players the league attracts will decrease, and long term this could have gradual implications on the viewership of it, leading to the value of it to the British economy lessening.
Interestingly, almost a year on, it is true that the price of players moving to the Premier League has risen astoundingly in the last year or two, especially this summer, with deals such as Chelsea’s purchase of Alvaro Morata for over £65 million. However, the impact of Brexit on these specific fee’s can be undermined by two factors. One, some of the most high profile transfers have come from outside the UK this summer, such as Neymar’s move to PSG for over £200 million, proving there is perhaps not such as huge impact on UK deals to and from abroad. As well as this there has been equally as inflated deals within the Premier League, like Romelu Lukaku’s £75 million move to Manchester United, and Manchester City’s purchase of Kye Walker for £50 million, these intra league deals show that as of yet, Brexit has not largely impacted on the scale of transfer fees in the Premier League, and instead these huge price hikes can be put down to the aforementioned TV sponsorship deals signed before the 2016/2017 season, so while it is of course possible Brexit could impact the transfer fees of the Premier League, as of yet it hasn’t. Of course we still haven’t left.
Overall therefore, it is true the effects of Brexit on transfer fees haven’t taken full impact, despite the marginal effect of inflation. On top of this we must wait until the nature of Brexit to see the true impact of the work permit changes. But as a keen Football Manager player I have witnessed first hand the mayhem a hard Brexit can cause, especially for the smaller Premier League clubs who can no longer unearth gems, and so we shall see.