An unexpected consequence of the new Brexit rules that will govern transfers in the January window may be an influx of players from the Brazilian, Mexican and Argentinian top divisions.
From New Year’s Day, new regulations for signing foreign players will apply to clubs wanting to recruit in the Premier League and EFL, as result of the UK’s departure from the European Union.
While this will make it harder to bring in footballers from Europe, the change will make it easier to secure players from south America, according to football recruitment analysts.
Not only that, but South American leagues are seen as good value for money in the international transfer markets, being a favourite recruiting ground for southern European clubs, like Porto.
More Brazilians like Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus may be heading to the Premier League
UK leaves the EU
Brexit happened on January 31 and since then the UK has been in a ‘post-Brexit transition period’.
This period ends on December 31 and new rules around immigration come into force at this point, which is what impacts on signing overseas players in elite sport.
The post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU also takes effect at 11pm tonight, after it was signed into law.
Parliament backed the agreement in a on Wednesday. The UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union, but the deal ends the possibility of tariffs on goods.
Until now, clubs have been able to sign players freely if they are citizens of countries in the European Union or Switzerland, whereas those from countries in the rest of the world have had to meet stringent rules.
But on December 31, immigration rules change as we reach the end of the ‘post-Brexit transition period’.
Our departure from the EU brings to an end free movement to the UK for all overseas signings, whether they are from Europe or further afield. All these players will now require a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA before they can apply for a visa.
A GBE will be relatively easily obtained for a regular international or a star player at a top club, but other players will need to accumulate 15 points or more, based on a scoring system. which takes account of the quality of the league and competitions they are playing in.
Under the new points system, leagues around the world are placed into bands and players performing in the higher bands can claim more points. Brazil, Mexico and Argentina’s top leagues have been placed in band three, improving the chances of those players meeting the required standard.
An influx of Brazilians like Thiago Silva has already raised the standrad in the top tier
‘Whilst the new rules will restrict the recruitment of Premier League and EFL clubs, they will also present new opportunities to sign players from leagues known for producing talented players,’ said Ramm Mylvaganam, founder of Ai Abacus.
‘The top leagues in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico have all been placed in Band 3, which should make it easier to sign players from these leagues based on the new points system.’
He estimates more than 550 players from those three South American leagues currently meet the new criteria and could obtain the GBE.
Some of them from the Brazilian Serie A, Argentinian or Mexican Primera Divisions could soon be winging their way to the English top tier to join their illustrious South American compatriots, Thiago Silva, 36, at Chelsea, Roberto Firmino, 29, at Liverpool and Gabriel Jesus, 23, at Manchester City.
Roberto Firmino is one of a host of top Brazilian players playing in the Premier League
However, the new points system will pose a challenge for clubs wanting to invest in players from lower European leagues such as Budesliga 2 in Germany, or Ligue 2 in France.
These have been favourite hunting grounds for English clubs in the past, with Leicester City sensationally signing Riyad Mahrez, 29, from Ligue 2 Le Havre in January 2014.
Under the new rules, only 14 players in Ligue 2 and 23 players in Bundesliga 2 are eligible to move to the UK, according to Ai Abacus.
Brexit transition period ends December 31 and new rules will govern transfers from January 1
Huddersfield Town’s Christopher Schindler, a German national, has been a mainstay in the Terriers’ defence since he joined from Bundesliga2 side, 1860 Munich in July 2016, and helped them to reach the Premier League. However, if visa restrictions were in place at the time of his transfer, he would not have met the new points-based threshold, according to Charlotte Smith, a senior associate at law firm, Walker Morris.
‘Many current Championship players would not meet the new criteria,’ said the employment and immigration lawyer, who advises football clubs. ‘Whilst the majority of League One and League Two and Women’s Championship players are UK or Irish nationals, prospective recruits from abroad will be unlikely to obtain an endorsement.’
Sportsmail has put together a Q&A for all you need to know about the new rules governing transfers.
Riyad Mahrez joined Leicester from French Ligue 2 side Le Havre, but would new rules allow it?
Post-Brexit Transfers: What is changing?
In a nutshell, the UK’s immigration system.
From midnight on December 31, free movement to the UK for citizens within countries of the European Economic Area as well as Swiss nationals will end.
This is because the Brexit transition period comes to an end and it will affect more than the colour of your passport, (which will be blue when you have to reapply for one if you are a UK citizen).
Players from European Union countries will need to earn 15 points in a new eligibility ruling for transfers once Great Britain completes Brexit and leaves the EU at the start of next year
The change will also have a fundamental impact on the way in which football clubs can sign players from Europe and beyond.
New rules are coming into force, which have been agreed between the Football Association, Premier League, English Football League and government, to manage the movement of players.
In the short term, this means that recruitment departments, already working flat out to identify targets now have to put all their options to their legal teams to find out if they are actually eligible.
EFL clubs will also adhere to the new system regarding player transfer eligibility post-Brexit
What do the rules say?
Anyone wanting to come to work in the UK under post-Brexit rules will have qualify as a ‘skilled worker’ and that is true for footballers and coaches, too.
Unfortunately for football clubs, it’s not enough for the chief scout to think ‘the lad can do a job in the Premier League’ or ‘the boy will make an impact’ in the Championship.
New signings will require a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA, before they can apply for their visa to enter the country.
A similar system has been in place for players outside of the EU, who wanted to sign for UK clubs, but now it will apply to all non-UK footballers.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said the top flight welcomed the new plan
Which players will clubs be allowed to sign?
The buying club will apply for a GBE, which costs £500, and it will be awarded through a points-based system. A player must earn 15 points or more to qualify.
Points will be awarded for:
- Senior and youth international appearances
- Quality of the selling club, based on the league they are in, league position and progression in continental competition
- Club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes
Where a player just misses out and achieves between 10 and 14 points, they can appeal to an Exceptions Panel, for a fee of £5,000. The appeal process will only be in place for the January transfer window.
A player with less than 10 points cannot sign for a UK club and clubs will not be able to sign players from overseas until they are 18.
Top players like Kevin de Bruyne would still be eligible to sign for British clubs on the basis of international appearances or due to the fact they play in top leagues and competitions
Can you sign if you are already an international player?
International appearances are the most straightforward way to earn a GBE and they represent the front door to English football for the stars of the world game.
Essentially, if you have represented your country on enough occasions you have a free pass, or more accurately an ‘auto-pass’.
A top player who represents their country regularly, assuming it is ranked within the FIFA top 50 nations, will be eligible for a GBE, but the level of representation required varies according to rank of the country.
So, the rules would allow a player to obtain a GBE if they have played at least 30% of fixtures for a top-10 ranked FIFA nation over the past 24 months, or at least 70% of fixtures for a country ranked from 30 to 50 by the governing body.
How good does the selling club need to be and how often does a player have to play to qualify for a GBE?
These are key questions. A player will receive more points the better the league they compete in, the higher up they finish and the better the level of continental competition they play in.
But they have to actually play, it is unlikely to be enough to simply be in the squad.
The criteria for the GBE have placed football leagues around the world in bands ranked from one to six.
Leagues around the world have been placed into bands in the Governing Body Endorsement criteria – the higher the banding the more points a player in that league can obtain
Band one includes, Italy’s Serie A, Ligue 1, the German Bundesliga, and La Liga.
Playing more than 90% of domestic minutes in La Liga over the past two years, for example, is worth 12 points or winning Serie A is worth six points.
Continental game time also adds points, according to which competition you play in. The Champions League is the top banded competition and a player who has played more than 90% of game time during the last two years earns 10 points.
So, if you are a regular at a good club in a top European league you are as good as in.
What if my club is not signing a mega star?
Well, you could be in difficulty.
The purpose of the policy around immigration post Brexit in it’s wide context, is to promote home-grown talent.
So, it will be harder to sign players who are not demonstrably really good.
Football recruitment consultants Ai Abacus have calculated how many players may be eligible to sign for a British side under the new Governing Body Endorsement criteria
Some leagues that have been traditionally happy hunting grounds for English clubs, particularly for sides at the top end of the Championship, have a low ranking.
French Ligue 2 and Bundesliga 2 have both been relegated to band four with few players eligible as a result.
The football recruitment analysts, Ai Abacus, estimate there are only 14 players in French Ligue 2, who could sign for a UK club, and 23 players in Bundesliga 2.
Does the system protect young British players?
This is what many people hope and this has been a point of division between the FA and Premier League.
The rules will now say, Premier League clubs can no longer sign under-18s. As a result, there was a rush by Premier League teams in the summer to capture the signatures of teenage players.
In theory, the new rules will open space in Premier League academies for local players.
The new system may create more space for young British players in the top academies
The rules do allow some flexibility around players aged 18-21, who may be on the edge of the first team but have not yet accumulated enough points to make a move to the UK.
The GBE has a separate set of criteria governing potential signings for this age group, such as receiving credit for youth international appearances, if they fail to make the required 15 points from the general criteria.
In addition, the number of overseas U21 players a club can sign will be limited to three in the January transfer window and six per season moving forwards.
An impact of new transfer system may be to attract more players from Brazil, like Thiago Silva
So, what will be the impact in the Premier League?
Business as usual at the top end of the market because marquee signings will have bundles of points, well above the 15 needed, which they will have earned through international appearances and regularly turning out in top-ranked European leagues and cups.
An unexpected consequence may be increased interest from Premier League clubs in signing players from the Argentinian and Brazilian leagues. Ai Abacus, have concluded that the new rules governing transfers from these countries are actually less stringent than before.
This, combined with the fact lesser European leagues have become more challenging for recruitment, should open up these markets. In addition, these leagues offer very high value for money.
‘A standout nation is Brazil with their top league having 217 eligible players,’ said Ramm Mylvaganam, founder of Ai Abacus.
‘And we have analysed the value for money of 53 leagues around the world and found defenders and forwards playing in the Brazilian Serie A represent high value for money compared to the top European leagues.’
Roberto Firmino is one of many to bring South American flair to the English top flight
Where will the rules have a big effect?
There are two areas where the changes could have a profound impact.
One of them is in Premier League academies. Reduced access to teenage overseas talent may change the player profile in the biggest clubs’ talent incubators.
This may give more opportunity to British players to gain a place and progress to the edge of the senior side, but Jurgen Klopp, for one, has argued that reducing the quality in academies may just result in British clubs producing fewer top-class players. The best players learn from playing with the best players.
The other major impact is likely to be in the Championship, League One and Two.
As Leicester City were preparing their assault on the Premier League in 2013/14, they signed Riyad Mahrez from French Ligue 2 club, Le Havre.
Players at French Ligue 2 side Le Havre may find it harder to move to British clubs
Mahrez was crucial in helping the Foxes secure promotion to the top flight and subsequently in lifting the title in 2016, however, would he have been eligible under the new rules, with no international appearances to his name? It is debatable. Only 14 players in Ligue 2 would be able to sign for a UK side in this window.
Huddersfield Town’s Christopher Schindler, a German national, has been a mainstay in the Terriers’ defence since he joined from Bundesliga2 side, 1860 Munich in July 2016, and helped them to reach the Premier League.
However, if visa restrictions were in place at the time of his transfer, he would not have met the new points-based threshold, according to Charlotte Smith, a senior associate at law firm, Walker Morris.
Christopher Schindler would not have been able to sign for Huddersfield from 1860 Munich under the new system, according to lawyers
‘Many current Championship players would not meet the new criteria,’ said the employment and immigration lawyer, who advises football clubs.
‘Whilst the majority of League One and League Two and Women’s Championship players are UK or Irish nationals, prospective recruits from abroad will be unlikely to obtain an endorsement.’
What are the rules for the women’s game?
The women’s game has also had a GBE proposal approved by the Home Office. It is similar to the men’s game and will also operate a points-based system, where points are scored on:
• Senior international appearances (but it will not include youth appearances)
• Quality of the selling club, based on the league they are in and former league position (but not continental cup competitions)
• Club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes
New rules will impact all sports
New rules, which come into force at the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31 will impact on all professional sport and apply to players as well as staff.
Each sport will have to agree with governement its own rules to define what is a skilled person. These rules will be set out in Governing Body Endorsements for each discipline.
Not all sports have announced the details of their own rules and some, like rugby, have extended exisiting rules for their current season.
In cricket, there is a particular impact around Kolpak players.
Since 2004, cricketers and rugby players from EU Association Agreement countries –South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tonga, Samoa and several Caribbean nations – have been able to take advantage of their right to work in EU countries.
The Kolpak rule was created when the European Court of Justice decided that a Slovakian handball player, named Maros Kolpak, should not be considered a non-EU player in the German handball league.
This opened the way for English cricket and rugby teams to sign Kolpak players without registering them as overseas players.
However, the changes about to come into force mean Kolpak players lose their right to work in the UK.
In cricket, clubs will be able to field two overseas players instead of one in the County Championship from next season.
Overseas cricketers already have to obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) prior to obtaining a visa, if they want to play in the UK.
There are various criteria to qualify for a GBE for first-class cricket including, having played at least one Test Match in the preceding 36 months, or five in the previous 72 months, representing a country that is a full member of the International Cricket Council.
Alternatively, the signing could have played 15 one-day internationals or Twenty20 internationals for their country in the last 36 months, be a centrally contracted player or have played a fixed number of matches in a top-ranked competition.
In Rugby Union, the new rules are yet to be decided.
A spokeswoman for the RFU told Sportsmail: ‘There will be no immediate change to foreign player status in rugby union as all current regulations have been extended to the end of the 2020/2021 season. Any potential changes for future seasons have yet to be announced. ‘
For this season, to qualify for a GBE in Rugby Union, an overseas player must have played in at least one international match in the previous 24 months representing one of the 10 tier one countries, which include the likes of New Zealand, Argentina and Australia.
To qualify from a tier two and three nation, the player must have played more international matches, or a combination of internationals and domestic matches in a top-ranked competition. A player can qualify without international experience if they have played 75% of the fixtures in a top-ranked competition over 24 months.
However, all rules are likely to be reviewed as the system beds in.
‘There will be a lot of bedding in,’ said Professor Chris Brady, Director of the Centre for Sports Business at the University of Salford. ‘It will be reviewed and it will change.’