What does Brexit mean for the Premier League’s global stars?

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock may reckon that Brexit will make the UK "better in every aspect" but with the Premier League transfer window and Theresa May's withdrawal bill facing deadlines this week, we asked football lawyer Daniel Geey what fans can expect post-March

The football transfer window slams shut this week and next time it reopens in the summer the goalposts will most likely have moved.

Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill is also facing its own deadline in this week as the Prime Minister debates amendments to the legislation ahead of the March 29 Brexit date.

To get a flavour of what that means for the Premier League, we asked football lawyer Daniel Geey what Brexit would bring to the beautiful game.

Currently, the Premier League has grown into one of the country’s biggest exports, attracting up to 4.7 billion viewers and £3.3bn form overseas TV companies in their last deal and contributes £7.6bn to the UK economy according to Ernst & Young.

That’s not good enough for serial moaner Neil Warnock however. The Cardiff City manager used a recent post-match press conference to speak of how he “can’t wait to get out of the EU”, claiming we’ll be “much better out of the thing – in every aspect”.

Daniel Geey
Daniel-Geey
Football lawyer Daniel Geey has penned a book called Done Deal that lifts the lid on football's biggest transfers

There was a touch of irony about Warnock’s “To hell with the rest of the world” rallying cry, sitting as he was in front of a Visit Malaysia advert and while in charge of a side that is comprised of 11 nationalities. Even the Cardiff City hierarchy – led by moneybags Malaysian Vincent Tan – distanced themselves from his comments.

But is Warnock right? To find out, Geey, football lawyer and author of new transfer-evaluating book Done Deal, isn’t so sure.

“I think Warnock’s view is in the minority,” says Geey. “If we want to retreat into our island, where we make it very difficult for foreigners to come and become employed to give more opportunities to UK players and think that will increase the attractiveness, skill level and spectacle of the Premier League, I think the exact opposite is true.”

Under the current system, EU players do not require a work permit to play in the UK but there can only be up to 17 non-homegrown players listed in the Premier League’s 25-man squads.

Governing body The Football Association has reportedly been discussing cutting the number of foreign players to a maximum of 12 men out of the 25 post-Brexit. 

With no deal in place everything is still up in the air, but legacy work permits for EU players who are already here are likely, meaning that Paul Pogba and co won’t be put out to pasture straight away.

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“There is no doubt that one of the huge attractions of the Premier League is its multinational ethnicity,” says Geey. “It brings fantastic talent from all around the globe and mixes it with domestic talent.

“Anything that dilutes the attractiveness of the game is likely to dilute the amount of money that television companies are willing to pay for the games. It may not be a short-term concern but in the longer term if clubs are fettered in their ability to bring in the best players because of a loss of free movement, I think it’s a real cause for concern.”

British players abroad could suffer too. Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, for example, could see opportunities limited in Spain’s La Liga, where there is a non-EU player matchday squad limit of three.

It is likely that more UK players will get those opportunities but as we have seen over the years, English players playing more minutes does not necessarily translate to success for the national team.

And as for the international front, surely having more English players in the Premier League will be the boost the national team need to finally bring a major trophy home?

“It is likely that more UK players will get those opportunities,” says Geey. “But as we have seen over the years, English players playing more minutes does not necessarily translate to success for the national team.

“Warnock may be looking at it from a very English perspective but my own view is that immigration has the ability to combine lots of different skillsets and the league has been greatly improved by freedom of movement.

“I remember Rio Ferdinand saying that he improved by training with international-calibre players and the ideas, tactics and culture they brought with them.”

Bizarrely enough, one of the best barometers of a post-Brexit Premier League can be seen in computer game Football ManagerThe management simulation has been analysing Brexit scenarios since 2016, bringing in hard or soft Brexit impacts on freedom of movement once players reach the March 29 D-day virtually. In other words, developer Sports Interactive (SI) probably knows more than the politicians.

SI’s studio director Miles Jacobsen has concluded from his research that a minimum of eight homegrown players in Premier League squads with the introduction of minimum salaries offers the best-case scenario. Home Secretary Sajid Javid has mooted a minimum salary threshold for highly skilled migrants of £30,000 per year in the lead up to Brexit – roughly what Arsenal’s German playmaker Mesut Özil earns over a few hours.

Until May and co break the deadlock in Westminster though, it is all conjecture.

But the likelihood of the Premier League retaining its ‘Best League in the World’ tag looks like being as off-target as Warnock.