Brexit is turning Premier League and Championship sides’ scouting policies upside-down as the new rules make it harder to sign unearthed gems from Europe’s weaker leagues.
The changes in work permits are supposed to give more opportunities to English players, while still allowing the best-of-the-best from overseas to play in the Premier League.
But due to the way the new rules work, clubs that scout the German second division or the Danish Superliga might be better off switching their attention across the Atlantic and scouting Liga MX, Major League Soccer, and the top leagues in Argentina and Brazil instead.
The new UK work permit rules that come into effect in the January 2021 transfer window will make it harder to sign players from the European Union. Brexit means these players will need a work permit, and while players in Europe’s top leagues won’t have any problem reaching the criteria, those in weaker leagues might struggle to get a ticket to England.
Players require 15 points to qualify for the governing body endorsement (GBE) required for a work permit under the new rules.
This can be hard to achieve for Europeans who play outside of the continent’s top leagues, particularly if they don’t play in continental competitions.
A German playing for Hamburg in Germany’s Bundesliga 2. would pick up six points for the strength of the league, and a further six points if he played at least 90% of the available minutes, meaning he would fall short of the points needed.
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But in some areas, it has become easier to get a GBE.
Regular internationals for a top-50 country automatically qualified under the old system, but these rules have been relaxed slightly under the new system. Players in teams ranked 11-20 in FIFA’s rankings previously needed to play in at least 45% of available matches, and those in teams ranked 30-50 had to play in 75% of matches to qualify automatically. This has been reduced to 40% and 70% respectively.
But more importantly, players who fall short of this criteria still pick up points for the international minutes they do play.
A Mexican who played in just one of his country’s matches over the past two years would pick up eight points. Add that to the eight points he would get just for playing in Liga MX, and already he has passed the 15-point threshold.
An American who played at least 20% of games for his country over the past two years would pick up seven points, and would get six more for playing in Major League Soccer. He would pick up the extra two required points so long as he played at least half of the available minutes for his club in the last year.
As both Mexico and the USA national teams contain lots of domestically-based players, their matches could be of more interest to English clubs looking for the latest talent, and a single international cap could add even more to a player’s value than before.
Mexico, Brazil and Argentina also have domestic leagues in the FA’s band 3, meaning regular starters in those leagues, especially for the clubs playing in continental competitions like the CONCACAF Champions League or Copa Libertadores, are likely to meet the criteria for a GBE, even if they haven’t been capped internationally.
In recent seasons, many young Brazilians have come to Europe through clubs in Ukraine, Portugal and the Netherlands as a stepping stone before joining Europe’s richest clubs.
Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk had more Brazilians than Ukrainians in their starting line up for their most recent Champions League match against Inter Milan, and are bound to make a big profit on some of those players like they did when they sold Fred to Manchester United for around three times what they originally paid for him.
Even players who joined English sides directly have had work permit difficulties in the past. When Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz originally moved to Europe to join Manchester City, he was unable to get a work permit and had to be loaned to La Liga side Girona for two years to qualify.
Now, the top English sides can cut out the middleman, and business-savvy smaller English sides can become the middleman, bringing in players straight from South America, and reaping the profits that Shakhtar Donetsk, Ajax and Porto might have made instead.
Clubs like Brentford and Norwich City have had great success scouting Europe’s smaller leagues. This winter, it might be time for their scouts to start swotting up on their Spanish and Portuguese.