UK divorce terms with Europe will determine impact on soccer

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union could mean profound changes for the country’s most successful sporting export if continental players can no longer easily join Premier League clubs.

Since English soccer reinvented itself in the 1990s and eradicated the rampant hooligan culture, it has become a magnet for both stars and more modest players from Europe.

But the ramifications for soccer after will only become clearer as Britain negotiates its exit terms and new relationship with the EU.

Here are some of the issues at stake:



Britain will be in the 28-nation EU bloc for at least two years. The immediate impact of Thursday’s referendum could stem from currency fluctuations amid the uncertainty.

The initial sharp fall of the pound as Brexit backing was announced on Friday means transfer fees for European players in particular will rise for British clubs. Foreign players converting salaries to their home currencies will notice they get less for the pound.

But with the European Championship underway, June is a quiet time for transfers — and sterling could well recover its losses as the season gets closer in August and more transactions are completed.

On the flip side, English players are currently cheaper for continental clubs, although few move abroad due to the high salaries on offer at home — even in the second tier.



You don’t have to be a citizen of a European Union country to move freely for work across the continent. Members of the European Economic Area — Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway — as well as Switzerland have access to the EU’s single market.

It’s harder if you don’t have an EU, EEA or Swiss passport, particularly since more stringent eligibility requirements for British work permits for soccer players came into force a year ago.

Only players from the top 50 FIFA nations are considered for work permits, with a sliding scale of appearances required — from 30 per cent of games over two years for the 1-10 teams to 75 per cent for 31-50 teams.

There is currently, however, an “exemptions panel” where clubs can argue why it is necessary to grant a visa to a player who doesn’t meet the criteria.

As for EU players, much will depend on the relationship Britain negotiates after a Brexit, and whether the free movement of EU citizens remains in place as part of a broader trade deal.



The English Football Association sees the potential for more homegrown players to gain first-team opportunities in the Premier League — and therefore boost the national team.

But the Premier League will want to protect its status as the world’s foremost and wealthiest domestic soccer competition. That’s due just only to its competitiveness but the multinational makeup of squads.

With some clubs also playing Europe in the Champions League and Europa League, they could argue that government needs to provide some form of easier access to players from the continent.

“If (Brexit) increases the number of English players, that is to be welcomed,” FA chairman Greg Dyke said. “But you don’t want to lose the best European players coming here.”

While the FA was neutral in the referendum campaign, the Premier League backed staying in the EU.

“We are a global export, we look outwards,” Scudamore said. “We are open to the world and we do business all around the world.”

Scudamore will not want the league to be degraded when television rights for the next three seasons have generated 8.3 billion pounds ($11.4 billion), with more than 3 billion pounds coming from overseas broadcasters.



The impact of Brexit might not be seen for a decade as some of the biggest enforced changes could be the makeup of club academies if clubs can no longer sign promising 16- to 18-year-olds from across Europe. That would have prevented Arsenal signing a 16-year-old Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona in 2003.

Teenagers can be brought to England relatively cheaply for low compensation payouts to European teams rather than paying transfer fees. The hope is players break into the first team or become saleable assets.

Clubs like Chelsea also have partner clubs in Europe, like Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands, to send promising players to gain experience. That might become more difficult.

“European clubs could have a competitive advantage over English clubs when it comes to recruiting promising players at the optimum time — 16 to 18,” said sports lawyer Carol Couse of Mills & Reeve, who advises players and clubs.

“Youth development is probably the biggest impact Brexit is likely to have.”