With Brexit looming is the English Premier League in jeopardy of forfeiting its status, self-proclaimed though it may be, as the “best” and “most entertaining” league in the world?
When Pat Riley was leading the “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers to multiple NBA Championships in the 1980s he referred to the sports world as the “Toy Department.”
Meaning there were far more important things to worry about. Was Reilly correct? That is a matter of some debate. For instance, we have only to remember the words of Liverpool’s legendary boss Bill Shankly to find a counterpoint. As Shankly once famously stated, “some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
And keep in mind that it is not just the Premier League that may feel some post- Brexit blues, leagues from the Championship on down, plus the Scottish leagues will also be affected.
How? Well, like much of the debate around this controversial topic, it depends.
Firstly we need to know, what type of Brexit will we see on departure day, March 29. Will it be a Hard, Soft, or even a No Deal Brexit? Obviously from a soccer angle, Neil Warnock aside, (more on him later) the softer, less intrusive, the better. Why mess up a good thing, right?
So, from a footballing point of view, what would it mean?
Work permits for one. American fans are used to the process but here is a quick refresher.
Currently, European Union players do not require work permits but Brexit could change that, meaning that French, Germans, and Poles, etc would be forced to undergo the same process now endured by Americans, Brazilians, and all players from outside the Eurozone, or minus an EU nation passport.
The top players should not be affected, and surprise surprise, the big clubs should also be fine, but a look at the chart below shows that scoring that precious work permit may not be quite so easy for the up and coming players that teams outside the “Big Six” rely on to fill out their rosters.
Work permit – automatic criteria: Based on % of games the player plays for his national team.
National association FIFA rank Percentage of games
Between 1 and 10 30%
Between 11 and 20 45%
Between 21 and 30 60%
Between 31 and 50 75%
The appeals process was tightened some years back, American fans remember that Juan Agudelo had to be loaned to Dutch side Utrecht after he signed with Stoke.
Future stars like Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante that transferred from second division French clubs would have seen their permits denied had they no benefitted from the EU Freedom of Movement.
And what about younger players that sign on to English youth sides? Minus an English passport, would the likes of Cesc Fabregas be held to the standards that Americans such as Weston McKennie have been and made to wait until he turns 18 to cross the Channel?
According to the data masters at FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.com over half of the players that joined the PL since its 1992 inception would have failed to qualify for work permits. Would the Premier League have reached its juggernaut stats minus talents such as Fabregas, Kante, and Mahrez to name but a few?
On the flip side, it has been noted that British and perhaps Irish players would benefit from a decline in continental talent arriving yearly in England’s Premier League. In a recent article on the topic, Forbes pointed out that, “Over the past 20 years, the EU has expanded, bringing more countries into the “freedom of movement” area. The proportion of U.K. and Irish players in the EPL has continued to decrease: Last season, they accounted for only 41 percent of all EPL players. Players from the rest of the EU accounted for 41 percent, while non-EU players accounted for 18 percent.”
That is quite a comedown from the figures at the end of the late 1990s when, again via Forbes, nearly two-thirds of all players in the PL were British or Irish. Recent reports indicate that Irish citizens in the UK Irish will retain their current rights under the Common Travel Area (CTA).
Warnock, who manages Premier League side Cardiff sounds ready to embrace the past, saying this on Brexit:
“I don’t know why politicians don’t do what the country wants, if I’m honest. They had a referendum and now we see different politicians and everyone else trying to put their foot in it. Why did we have a referendum in the first bloody place?
“I can’t wait to get out of it, if I’m honest. I think we’ll be far better out of the bloody thing. In every aspect. Football-wise as well, absolutely. To hell with the rest of the world.”
So, that’s one voice heard from. Others may be less positive. Former Premier League Chief Richard Scudamore was widely quoted in June 2016, three days ahead of the Brexit referendum, saying:
“We travel the world being welcomed because of the fact that we are open for business, open for discussion, and open for cooperation.” “There is an openness about the Premier League,” Scudamore added, “which I think would be completely incongruous if we were to take the opposite position.”
Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, No Deal Brexit?! With so much uncertainty ahead of the March 29th departure date it is impossible to predict exactly what football will look like in England post-Brexit, the one thing we can say for sure is that we will be watching.