A few weeks ago, I did a piece on Brexit which raised some eyebrows.
I wrote it after Sports Interactive released their latest version of Football Manager, into which they had written a “Brexit simulator” which would choose, at random, one of several scenarios which the evolving political situation had made possible.
That article alarmed a few people, and they were quick to suggest that the UK would do everything it could to protect football, including waiving work permit requirements for players.
Yesterday, campaigners and EU officials tried to firmly slam the door on any such suggestion.
Brexit’s proponents want no special dispensations and the EU itself has warned that there will be no “special deals” for certain sections of the economy; as I suspected, that would be fraught with dangers and wide open to multiple fronts of legal assault.
If Brexit happens, football on this island is going to change in profound ways, ways we can barely imagine. Established international players will soar in value as they will get work permits whilst those who’ve yet to break into the national teams won’t. Domestic based players will also soar in value, because work permits won’t be needed for them. Guys like Moussa Dembele would never have been able to sign for UK based teams in the first place.
Oh we won’t lose the guy prematurely; he will be entitled to stay now that he’s here, but regulations will be so tight that finding, and signing, the next up and comer from the continent will be a million percent more difficult than it is right now.
If this goes through there will be no Van Dijk’s or Bitton’s in our immediate future. Victor Wanyama would have been a notable exception; we had to apply for a work permit for him, and it was refused in the first instance. We won that on appeal, by arguing successfully that he was an exceptional talent, as has been proved.
One politician has actually looked into this matter in detail, the Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, who has clearly done the work others should have. What she details for Scottish football – and for Celtic – is alarming in its implications. 18% of our current squad hail from outside the UK. Bailly, De Vries, Sviatchenko, Simunovic, Janko, Ajer and, even Dembele, although he was at an English club, would all have had to qualify for work permits had we tried to sign them under a Brexit system.
In fact, the stats for Scottish football as a whole will shock you; out of over 50 players from the European Union playing in this country right now, only one would have qualified, automatically, for a work permit under the regulations as they would stand requiring a certain number of caps in the last few years and the national team being a FIFA top 70 country.
Even players from the Republic of Ireland – who I didn’t mention above, but who are included in the 50 and who may or may not qualify for work permits via the Common Travel Area – might have to apply.
The single player who would have qualified on his own – and he wouldn’t any longer by the way – without an appeal or exemptions from under the CTA is our own Mikael Lustig. All the rest, including those Celtic players I named a moment ago, would have been rejected in the first instance, and although some (a handful) – like Moussa – may have had successful appeals.
The effect on individual clubs would have been stark; all five of Aberdeen’s ROI players would have been refused. There goes Rooney, Hayes, Morris, O’Connor and Rodgers. Five players at Dundee would have gone including Darren O’Dea. Five from Hamilton, including Mo Donati, would have been ineligible. There are five from Hearts, three from Inverness, one each at Kilmarnock and Motherwell, two from Thistle, three from Sevco, five for Ross County and three at St Johnstone, and this doesn’t even include players who are on loan.
Even those clubs at the top of the EPL, who are able to sign top players, full internationals, are going to bleed over this. The case Catherine highlights is that of Paul Pogba, whose transfer to Manchester United was heavily influenced by currency fluctuations.
He signed for Manchester United for €105 million, which at the exchange rate of that time levelled out to around £89.1 million. Had he signed just two months sooner, the better exchange rate would have secured him for £80.7 million … 10% less.
We can’t predict what currency fluctuations in the future might look like, but as we get to the heart of this players are going to cost more; there’s just no escaping that fact.
I know not everyone who reads this blog likes it when I veer into politics, and even less like my political views on any number of subjects, but this one will impact on our club for years to come. It will hurt us. It will stall the Brendan Revolution in horrendous ways, if things proceed in the manner that they are.
Our club needs to be thinking about this now, not in a year or two year’s time, but right now, in the present day and we need to be preparing for the worst possible EU exit, the hardest possible Brexit scenario and what that means for us.
It doesn’t matter what you think of the decision to exit the EU – and my view on it is that it’s an astonishing, ill-conceived act of political, social and economic self-harm like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life – but people should stop kidding themselves that the impact on our sport is going to be negligible, that ways will be found to limit the consequences.
There are industries ahead of football in the queue for special dispensations and tonight all are facing up to the prospect of being told that it’s just not possible. The EU is going to make demands on the government which, in its fear of what the right will do, simply won’t be possible.
European Union countries can see no advantages to doing us any favours.
Some who think bankers and financial services personnel will retain the ability to move freely are already shocked at the way the governments in France and Germany are looking at this situation through the prism of self-interest; they know Paris and Bonn look more attractive to the banks with every day that passes, and as far as football goes their own national leagues have suffered immeasurably as a consequence of the spending power of the EPL, just as we have.
Believe me, they are in no mood to offer English football an exit strategy. Which would be fine, except we’re caught in this too and if you think it was bad before life will get even harder for Scottish clubs trying to compete in the transfer market.