Christmas should be a time to step back from work, spend some quality time with family and simply relax. But for the British government and embattled Prime Minister Theresa May, there will be no such respite as they attempt to scramble a deal across the line for Brexit. With Britain scheduled to leave the EU next March, the clock is ticking against May and her team to get a deal finalized or risk exiting without one in place which could have dramatic ramifications. As the debate rages on about what the agreement should look like or indeed whether Britain should be exiting at all, football has remained fairly removed from the whole process. That is until now.
The implications of Britain’s plans to leave the EU are now starting to be felt in football with the FA and Premier League clashing over what should happen in a post Brexit world. Key to the debate is what squads should look like moving forward. The FA is pushing to reduce the number of non home-grown players in squads from 17 to 13 by 2020 but that has been rejected by the Premier League. They have made it abundantly clear that they disagree with the FA’s position citing that there is no evidence to support that such a move would strengthen the England national team. Supported in their argument by the English Football League (EFL) and the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), the Premier League contests that such a move would in fact weaken teams in the league and affect their overall product which is now globally valued at around £6.3bn.
Both sides do make compelling arguments supporting their stance and continue to discuss with the British government who will make the final decision of what should be the recommendation included in the Brexit agreement. If the FA is successful, it could create headaches for about half the clubs in the Premier League who would have to adjust their squads accordingly to comply. At present, clubs are permitted to have a maximum of 25 players in their first team squad, 8 of which must be home-grown. Home grown is simply defined as a player born in the UK or a foreign player who has been developed by a club affiliated with the FA for a minimum of three years before they turn 21 much like Cesc Fabregas was at Arsenal). If the FA gets its way this would shift to 12 homegrown players. Clubs like Chelsea have historically struggled to comply with the existing cap and indeed brought in 38-year-old goalkeeper Rob Green in the summer as a way to make sure they met the cap. But if the number was adjusted, they would be forced to sell on some of their foreign players and either buy British or promote from their youth academies. The former will lead to elevated prices around home grown players whilst the latter will put pressure on clubs to stock pile youth players in order to make sure they have enough coming through to met the cap.
The FA is often at pains to point out that only 30% of players who have made starts this season are qualified to play for England which is damaging the countries chances of progressing yet recent performances on the pitch by the national side have suggested otherwise. Indeed successes at under 17 and under 21 level World Cups as well as a semi final appearance at the 2018 World Cup for the full team demonstrate how English football is flourishing despite checks and measures like the existing cap. The Premier League also argues that changing the number wont affect the overall number of foreign players arriving with an average of 13 non home-grown players at the clubs at present. it is advocating for a relax governmental approach which would effectively create a loophole for sports and allow for an open market to exist.
Both sides believe they have the upper hand in the disagreement, however with the FA currently running the existing system with government approval they may hold more of the cards. The Premier League is unlikely to fold either and will be hoping that recent talks about a coup which would see Theresa May removed from power, a new leader elected and a hasty back out of exiting the EU (a move which seems to be gathering momentum rather than diminishing) come to fruition. Not surprisingly the FA is keen to enforce the home-grown number change regardless of the outcome of Britain’s Eu discussions so its fight with the Premier League may go beyond these existing talks. But for now, they must push for a consensus as the government looks to finalize the Brexit deal. With less than four months to go, it will be a nervous time for all involved with the ramifications of any decision not really felt until the summer of 2021. Christmas for them is effectively cancelled.