The new rules for recruiting football players from within the European Union took effect from January 2021 and this will have a significant impact on the English Premier League.

From 1 January 2021 the government implemented new rules that would impact English football. International player recruitment is now more complicated under the new rules as a result of Brexit ending the freedom of movement between the UK and the EU. Like other overseas workers in other industries, foreign footballer players must pass a points-based system before moving to the UK.

In the past the big UK clubs would maintain a European network of scouts who would monitor European players across all levels. If a player was considered suitable for an English club, they were able to buy the players from their existing club with very little bureaucracy in respect of work permits. The position of recruiting football players from overseas is now significantly complex and will impact adversely on English football clubs.

The Home Office and England’s Football Association agreed on a Football Governing Body Endorsement (GBE). A GBE is confirmation by the football association that a footballer migrating to the UK is established at the highest level and will make a significant contribution to the development of football at the highest level in the UK. The governing body for football in the UK is required to publish ‘endorsement requirements’ which are effectively a set of criteria a footballer will be assessed against. If the footballer meets these criteria, they will be ‘endorsed’ by the governing body and a GBE will be issued to their employer who will issue the sportsperson with a Certificate of Sponsorship. Players will only be awarded the GBE if they meet the following points-based eligibility criteria:

  • International caps gained by a player.
  • FIFA ranking for the country involved in the transfer.
  • Academy where the player first developed their career.
  • Domestic club appearances made by a player.
  • Relative strength of the domestic league where the player made appearances.

The English Premier League also agreed to limit the number of overseas players a club can have and as of January 2021, English clubs are limited to three overseas Under 21 players in their squad and are barred from signing overseas Under 18 players.

The restrictive rules on transfers will see fewer imports of average overseas players into the UK, and the impact will be more opportunities for UK based football players to become professional football players domestically. The danger of this will be missing out on top quality overseas players who may be from a lower FIFA ranked country and playing in a lower league. These players may be future stars but will be denied the platform of playing and developing as football players in the UK. Another aspect which will be missed now is the peer to peer training that UK players used to get from the overseas players. The most recent example has been the transfer of Edinson Cavani to Manchester United Football Club. Edinson Cavani has been a mentor in the club and has assisted in developing Mason Greenwood.

The bigger English Premier League football clubs will have contingency plans in place to develop young English football players and will also be able to buy young players from lower league football clubs. The impact will be on the lower league football clubs who may be forced to sell their young players earlier and therefore missing out on getting their full value later. In addition, the smaller clubs will not be able to obtain visas for foreign players from lower ranked countries to develop and sell on later to the bigger clubs to make a profit and then re-invest into the club by developing the youth teams.

The full impact of the changes will start in the 2021/22 football season and continue to influence the operations of English football clubs positively and negatively for years to come.