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Brexit and football: How Premier League rules on transfers have changed after UK’s exit from European Union

The i 1/4/2021 Katherine Lucas
a man smiling for the camera: Jadon Sancho's transfer to Borussia Dortmund wouldn't have been allowed under the new rules (Photo: Getty) © Provided by The i Jadon Sancho's transfer to Borussia Dortmund wouldn't have been allowed under the new rules (Photo: Getty)

Britain’s exit from the European Union at 11pm on New Year’s Eve transcended the realm of politics and its far-reaching impact will be noted by football clubs up and down the country.

More than four years on from the referendum, sporting directors have had plenty of time to prepare themselves for the new rules regarding transfers which come into play from today.

The regulations coincide – well, almost – with the opening of the January transfer window on Saturday. In this highly unusual market, few teams are expected to spend big anyway, a combined consequence of a persistent trend dating back several years – the best business rarely happens mid-season – and the financial impact of Covid-19.

At any rate, the new rules are here to stay and will affect future windows too.

The main transfers which will now be limited concern teenagers from EU countries, as well as players who will now have to qualify via a points system.

What are the new rules?

European citizens will now need a visa to work in the UK in the same way as those from elsewhere in the world. That means clubs can no longer rely on EU free labour movement rules. Instead, new arrivals will need to earn a governing body endorsement (GBE).

How does a player go about getting a GBE? The Football Association, the English Football League and the Premier League have come together to create a points-based system, which has been given the go-ahead by the Home Office.

A transfer can only be immediately approved with a score of 15, with points awarded on criteria including number of international caps and the FIFA ranking of the player’s country. It’s aimed at judging the quality of signings and mirrors the system used to approve non-EU signings – though it’s slightly more complex and judges new factors, such as the strength of league from which the player is arriving and how many club appearances they have already made.

a close up of a flag: Brexit will affect the way Premier League clubs do business (Photo: AFP/Getty) © Provided by The i Brexit will affect the way Premier League clubs do business (Photo: AFP/Getty)

If a player scores between 10 and 14 points, an exceptions panel will make a ruling. If the current system proves too problematic, there’s a chance it could be altered following a review at the end of the January transfer window.

Previously, English clubs were also allowed to sign EU nationals between the ages of 16 and 18 with parental permission. Now, those rules will only apply to players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those from the EU can only be signed once they’ve turned 18.

What kind of transfers will not happen anymore?

There will be special permissions for players between 18 and 19 if they don’t qualify for a GBE, such as if they have made a certain number of appearances in the first team of their current club.

In this month’s transfer window, clubs will only be able to sign a maximum of three under-21 players from outside the UK. Going forward, clubs will be able to sign no more than six players who need a GBE in one season.

Some things won’t change – Premier League clubs are still required to have eight homegrown players in their 25-man squads, for example.

Summary of the new rules

  • No signings of players under the age of 18
  • EU and non-EU citizens must qualify for a governing body endorsement (GBE)
  • Clubs won’t be able to sign more than six players who need a GBE in one season
  • British nationals will need a visa to play in other leagues, with some countries having restrictions on the number of non-EU players in a matchday squad

High-profile transfers involving top international players should be unaffected, though sides with a smaller budget who are targeting more niche signings may struggle to win approval. It’s been predicted that we could see an influx of players from South America as clubs change their strategy, as there will be no particular advantage to buying EU nationals anymore.

The presences of Roberto Firmino, Sergio Aguero and Edinson Cavani, who come from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay respectively, are a reminder that these types of regulations are not insurmountable. It may be harder, though not impossible, for teams to sign players from the weaker European leagues, such as Belgium’s First Division A or Norway’s Eliteserien.

However, some transfers will be off the cards altogether.

Jadon Sancho

A transfer which would have been scuppered under the new rules is the deal which took Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund in 2017. The forward was playing for England’s Under-17 side when he left Manchester City, so he would not have been old enough to make the bold move away from the Premier League.

Cesc Fabregas

Cesc Fabregas moved to Arsenal from Barcelona in 2003 at the age of 16. The Spanish midfielder spent eight years in north London, making 212 appearances, before returning to Catalonia. Fabregas would not have been able to join the Gunners for another two years.

Cesc Fabregas with a football ball: Fabregas moved to England at the age of 16 (Photo: Getty) © Provided by The i Fabregas moved to England at the age of 16 (Photo: Getty)

Jude Bellingham

Another teenager who has since followed the “Sancho” trend. Young British players moving to the Bundesliga have often blossomed, benefiting from the experience of a new league and in many cases, greater opportunities for regular playing time. Dortmund signed Jude Bellingham for £25m from Birmingham last year, but he doesn’t turn 18 until June.

Can clubs get around the rules?

One way clubs may try and circumvent the rules is by benefiting from existing partnerships with European sides. They could sign players now and agree for them to move only after their 18th birthday.

It is not just incoming players who will need to consider these new stipulations, either.

In Spain, squads are only allowed three non-EU citizens in a matchday squad, which will make signing British players less appealing. Managers and coaches – like Graham Potter who spent seven years in Sweden with Östersunds, or Steve McClaren who won the Dutch Eredivisie with Twente – will now need visas to work outside of the UK.

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