Sunday, June 16, 2024

Brexit’s impact on transfers one year on: Work permit difficulties, non-EU quotas and online work permit calculators

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Football clubs and agents across Europe have had to get to grips with a different way of conducting their business owing to the legislation that came into effect on January 1, 2021.

Overnight, it became more difficult for teams in England to sign relatively unknown quantities from Spain, Italy, Germany, France and other top leagues on the continent. British players are impacted too as they now need to convince a team in Italy, for example, that they are good enough to take one of their three non-EU spots in the squad.

So, a year on, what impact is the UK’s decision to leave the European Union having on business this month?

“What’s been interesting with Brexit is that football is usually a law unto itself because of the money involved, and you normally have different rules to the rest of the population,” remarked one agent. “With the new immigration legislation, it’s the same for everyone else — and it has to be the same for us.”

The agent did, however, stress that the current rules — in the form of the 2021 Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) regulations — are a “massive problem” and a “pain in the arse”.

How have the Brexit rules impacted player trading in this window?

“It’s two-fold,” said an agent. “We work globally as a company, so it is a case of trying to pre-empt where British clubs will buy players from now. If leagues in Scandinavia have shut off, have Mexico or Brazil opened up?”

The non-EU player quota across Europe has certainly made it more difficult for agents to shift English players overseas, even though both Tammy Abraham and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have signed for Roma this season. Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe cut short his Aston Villa loan and joined Napoli on a six-month deal this month, too.

But Dean Henderson, Manchester United’s second-choice goalkeeper, has so far been unable to navigate an exit away from Old Trafford. There currently aren’t any vacant No 1 spots in the Premier League, and European clubs are seemingly reluctant to use one of their limited places on a goalkeeper. Ajax might have been a possibility but Andre Onana is set to stay until the end of the season.

“When you think about it, how many scenarios are there when an English player actually ends up at a European club? There’s not that many,” says an agent. “The market for players like Gareth Bale will always be there.

Tammy Abraham is one of Roma’s three non-EU players (Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

“There are teams interested in your players, but teams are reluctant to fill one of their non-EU spots. We got really far down the road, and they decided to pull out of a deal at the last minute because of the quota. It’s ridiculous.”

Another agent highlighted the difficulty in working out if a deal could happen due to the complexity around the points system for players hoping to move to England.

“The FA have made the rules for players under 21 getting into the country complex; there is now an exemption policy,” the agent remarked. “For players over 21, you have this confusing points system.

“You can buy access to online calculators, but they all seem to have different algorithms. You put the same player’s name into each one and get a different result. It’s bonkers”

What are the rules in England?

Before Brexit, representatives trying to place their clients in Britain still had a threshold of criteria they needed to hit to obtain a work permit. But this was financial. For example, if a club spent £10 million on a player from Europe, the permit application would be accepted.

Wages were also taken into consideration and were split into two brackets: £34,000 per week and £43,000 per week. Triggering either pay packet would increase the chance of the green light being given to making a deal happen.

“Players signed from Europe used to get paid more than what most clubs would want to pay because it helped get them a work permit,” says a source who works in recruitment at a Premier League club.

But under the current rules, while finance is still an important part of gaining the points required to be granted a work permit to play in Britain, there are plenty more hoops that need jumping through.

“You could have a young lad playing every game in the Spanish second division, but he wouldn’t get a work permit because La Liga 2 is band four,” an agent explains. “Because he doesn’t play for the national team and he’s young, he won’t get a work permit.”

As a general rule of thumb, players need to have made a certain percentage of appearances for their national team over a two-year period before the GBE application is made. The higher the FIFA ranking of the national side, the lower the percentage of appearances needed.

If Manchester United want to make a signing from Belgium, ranked as the best team in the world by FIFA, the player would need to have featured in a minimum of 30 per cent of their competitive fixtures in the previous 24 months.

International appearances are the only way potential signings can be granted an automatic pass.

If players can’t score points this way — they need 15 for a work permit or a minimum of 10 for a mediation —  then their domestic minutes will be taken into account. Again, they will score higher if they play in a better league.

There are five bands set out by the GBE:

Band One: English Premier league, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1

Band Two: Portuguese Primeira, Belgian First Division, Eredivisie, Turkish Super Lig, English Championship

Band Three: Scottish Premiership, Liga MX, Primera Division of Argentina, Russian Premier League, Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A

Band Four: Croatian First Football League, Swiss Super League, Bundesliga 2, La Liga 2, Austrian Football Bundesliga, Ligue 2, Czech First League, Ukrainian Premier League, Greek Superleague, Colombian Categoria Primera A, MLS

Band Five: Danish Superliga, Polish Ekstraklasa, Slovenian PrivaLiga, Chilean Primera Division, Serbian SuperLiga, Chinese Super League, Uruguayan Primera Division

Other point-scoring categories are the final league position of the player’s last club, the minutes they’ve played in continental competitions — the Europa League and Champions League, for example — and how far their club progressed in the tournament. The final one is the quality of the team they are transferring from.

What are the non-EU player quotas across Europe?

The limitations vary depending on the league, as national football associations have been able to decide how many non-EU players can be part of a squad.

In Spain and Italy, teams are allowed three non-EU players. Clubs can have five in France.

Germany doesn’t have a limit, but their respective sides must have at least 12 German players in their squad.

The rules around salaries also differ.

For example, non-EU players in the Netherlands and Belgium are entitled to a minimum salary.

In the Netherlands, clubs have to pay 150 per cent of the average salary in both the Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie to signings from outside the EU.

The talk in Germany centres on players going to England as opposed to transfers going the other way. There is a thought that GBE rules have meant clubs can hold on to key members of their squad. Wout Weghorst at Wolfsburg is an example of this.

Bayern Munich’s Omar Richards is the only player to have swapped the UK for Germany since Brexit in a deal that surprised many in the industry.

Have Premier League clubs had to change the way they recruit players from Europe?

Almost undoubtedly.

Clubs can no longer sign players from Europe until they turn 18 years old, and are now relying on points calculators to determine whether a deal is worth pursuing or not.

“There are players that could definitely play here, but they don’t get the points anymore,” added the source who works in recruitment at a Premier League club. “It’s made a difference to our strategy of what we are doing and what players we are buying, but not a massive one.

“When we look at players, we immediately go, ‘Can he get a visa?’, and if he can’t then we go, ‘Well, what’s the point? Let’s move on.’”

Although not every Premier League side can boast a stable of satellite clubs like the City Football Group, it isn’t a coincidence that multi-club models are becoming increasingly popular.

The recent Sport Republic takeover of Southampton is evidence of that. By adding several teams to an umbrella, it creates the potential to move players around to aid their development until they are old enough to move to one of the group’s other clubs.

Clubs and agents were briefed on the new Brexit regulations ahead of their release in January 2021, and with each transfer window that passes, their understanding of them will only grow.

Tuanzebe, Abraham and Maitland-Niles have shown this year that there is still a desire from European teams to sign English players, even though they take up the non-EU spots in the squad.

Premier League clubs have been impacted more than their European counterparts, but they will know before pressing ahead with a deal whether or not their target will be granted a work permit from the Home Office.

There may be more hurdles to jump through, but there’s an argument to suggest only the best talent will end up in England, while the GBE rules will also, in theory, push teams towards developing their own players.

(Photos: Getty Images; graphic: Sam Richardson)

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