Brexit Gives British Football a Golden Opportunity: Let’s Take it Share PDF Print E-mail
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By Steve Parish, Chairman of Crystal Palace Football Club.

This is not a political column. It isn’t an argument about ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain.’ It’s just that we are where we are: Britain is exiting the European Union and every industry should be preparing for what lies ahead. Football is no different. Do things right and the post-Brexit future will be a better one for our game.

At present, British EU membership has a huge impact on the composition of Premier League squads. Free movement means clubs can sign EU players without limits, but this leads to restrictions on talent from elsewhere while damaging the prospects of British players. Brexit represents our chance to address both.

I know other chairmen worry about immigration controls and not being able to sign so many Europeans but that misses the point. Brexit allows us to rewrite the rules on who we can recruit and how squads are made up. We can redraw the illogical ‘homegrown’ rule to ensure British kids are better served.

At least eight players in every 25-man Premier League squad must be ‘homegrown’ but because of the EU, ‘homegrown’ does not mean ‘British’. It comprises anyone trained at an English club academy for three years. So, you have the ludicrous situation of Cesc Fabregas or Asmir Begovic or Gylfi Sigurdsson being designated as ‘homegrown’ and effectively taking slots from UK players.

Strange rule: Crystal Palace’s Scottish defender James McArthur is classed as a ‘foreigner’ because he wasn’t trained in England.

Post-Brexit, we do what we like. We can redefine ‘homegrown’ to help the home nations. We should include not just English, but Scottish, Welsh and Irishmen, because another nonsense of the system is that James McArthur is classed as a ‘foreigner’ in Crystal Palace’s squad because he wasn’t trained in England. Whereas Fabio Borini plays for Sunderland as a ‘homegrown’ player.

Premier League academies are populated with EU youngsters, who can come to England at any age, limiting even youth level places for British players and leading to squads becoming further removed from fanbases. We can stop this influx and fill academies with local players once again. What you see now — clubs poaching from European academies — would no longer be possible because Fifa regulations forbid foreign transfers before 18.

We can also shake up the work permit system. Presently, a non-EU footballer must play a certain percentage (depending on Fifa’s ranking) of their country’s internationals over a two-year period before you can sign them. Otherwise, you have to appeal and prove they are ‘special’, and the criteria includes things such as paying a high transfer fee or offering a contract that puts them among your top bracket of earners, a system that’s encouraging clubs to pay over the odds.

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Scrap it. Let’s have some clear rules. Any player to whom a club is willing to offer a Premier League contract should be eligible. Why would we give someone a contract if we didn’t think they were good enough? We’d get rid of so many anomalies.

Why can’t I buy more US players for example? We know Americans do well in the Premier League and yet it’s so difficult to buy an emerging MLS player if they’re not yet a national team regular, unless you offer over £8m to make it an ‘above average’ transfer fee, and put that player in your top 25% of earners, just to get the work permit points.

With different rules, clubs could buy more from the South American, African and Australasian markets. Luka Milivojevic, whom we signed from OIympiakos, has been brilliant but had a drawn-out process of waiting for a work permit because he isn’t from the ‘EU’, he’s Serbian. Ludicrous. We always struggled to get Mile Jedinak a work permit: he was captain of Australia. Meanwhile, Kelechi Iheanacho arrives as a teenager with a work permit to play for Manchester City because he did well at an under-17 tournament. Crazy.

With a different permit system we’d create a much bigger market in which our clubs can buy talent. And if you create a bigger supply, you lower prices. That would reduce transfer costs and the money going out of British football.

It’s not that we’d end up buying more foreign players; we’d just buy them from different places. The 17 players in a Premier League squad who aren’t homegrown, whether from France or from South America, makes no odds.

It’s easy to highlight its faults, but no one can argue with the success of the Premier League. It’s a flagship brand which greatly benefits the country; around 37% of its revenue goes directly to the Exchequer mainly from tax on player salaries. The difference between a post-Brexit Premier League and other industries is that the future is largely in our own hands. Being in the EU affects our competitiveness.

We can fill our academies with local players once again. Today, Fabregas, Begovic and Sigurdsson count as ‘homegrown’ players

When the league began you could get bargains, or at least pay the right prices for players, and a well-run club could rise. Now all 20 clubs are in the same small European market for players. The top six will always have enough money to buy whoever, but the rest of us face vastly inflated prices. it’s almost akin to a ‘Premier League tax’.

European clubs know our league is the richest. Riyad Mahrez left Le Havre for Leicester for £400,000 in 2014. Last summer we went to Le Havre to watch someone in a similar bracket, a promising young attacker, Lys Mousset, and he went to Bournemouth for £7.3m.

I have scouts who say: ‘That boy who went to Sunderland for £12m; you could have had him for £2m if you weren’t an English club. No chairman in Europe can be seen to be selling a player to the Premier League for much less than €10m. It’s got to the point where the best value last summer was counterintuitive: buying from another English club. Nathan Redmond for £10m, Victor Wanyama for £12.2m, for example.

We did some research, based on cost and how often a player appeared for their team, and found buying a player from within England means paying a fee inflated by 38%, but buying from France involves paying 38% over value too. So, we’re at a stage where you pay as much of a premium for European talent as for British. Clubs in France and Belgium almost buy players to get them shop-ready to sell to England.

We need to break free from this, expand our supply of talent while protecting our own. Simplify work permits, redraw quotas: we can do all this. The world loves our competition, the Premier League is a fantastic beacon of success for Britain. With Brexit it can get even better.

 

Article originally published on The Times.

 
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