Football Manager was out a little later than normal this year, and when players finally got their hands on it there was a nasty – in fact a savage – little wrinkle in what is always a complex game but usually, at least, a straightforward one.
The team at SI Games had included the coming Brexit regulations in full.
If you decide to run a team based on these islands, the first part of the season goes on almost as normal; it’s when players get to the January window that the full force and effect hit them like a sledgehammer.
All those wonder kids from all around Europe who players who would buy and then develop into superstars … all that is over with.
Every footballer – every footballer – from outside the domestic game requires a work permit, and Home Office regulations are incredibly tough.
Running Celtic in a career game I found it absolutely impossible to build the squad I wanted.
The forums quickly filled up with people saying the same. It made me laugh in a way; a lot of those folk would have cheerfully voted for Brexit; this is yet another example of how they got what they wanted without understanding what it would be.
Luckily, the whole issue can be casually ignored by the insertion of a tiny change in the database.
In the real world, we have no such get-out-of-jail-free card.
I’m no Cassandra, but I’ve been writing about this subject since the Westminster government of Theresa May ruled out any version of staying in the Single Market, because it was perfectly obvious that we were heading for a hard Brexit and that this would have a devastating effect on football in this country.
Recent efforts to get the Home Office to allow a different set of rules for players based in Scotland – due to us having a small population and not a lot of money in the game – are not cutting any slack south of the border, and they won’t.
This is a hard line ideological government determined to cut immigrant numbers – even those in high demand industries – regardless of the consequences.
If they aren’t going to make exceptions for the NHS and the care sector they aren’t going to make it for football, and especially not when the FA down there is quite pleased with this development in some ways because they believe it will force clubs to develop better players from their academies.
A lot of owners aren’t terribly bothered by it either; they see it as a good excuse for not spending enormous sums of money on foreign footballers. “Oh but the rules won’t let us” is all they have to say to their supporters. They don’t want exceptions or exemptions written into the rulebook.
They are happy for the hard Brexit to do its worst.
Clubs at the top of the game won’t particularly care. Home Office regulations are going to allow them to continue buying full internationals. All it means is that the costs for players who would qualify for work permits will sky-rocket.
The transfer market will be crazier than ever at the top end, with ever obscener fees being paid.
So what are the impacts on Celtic?
Well, our transfer “trading strategy” is out the window, that’s the long and short of it.
Under what would be the new rules, we wouldn’t even have got work permits for the likes of Virgil Van Dijk. The type of players we’ve bought from abroad, that’s over with. If we want seamless business we’re going to have trade within the UK … where all the prices will go through the roof.
It also means that any Scottish talent with even modest ability is going to be on the radar of clubs in England who can no longer scout abroad.
With our clubs having no ability to bring in promising youth players from Europe and with next to no chance of Scottish teams keeping their own best young talent, you are actually talking, here, about the final act in the slow leeching of our game.
I cannot overstate just how damaging this is going to be.
The SFA has uttered not one word about this, although we’re 13 days from whatever form of Brexit deal Johnson agrees to, if there is one. Football won’t get a dispensation either way. If Celtic has concerns – and of course it does – we have not made them public. The Scottish Government hasn’t uttered a word on the impact to sport and there’s not much they can do anyway as immigration is not a devolved issue for obvious reasons.
The media has actually woken up to this at last. It took them long enough; this problem has only been starting us in the face for the last few years, but as per usual it seems as if the clubs and the governing bodies here just sat and waited and hoped for a positive outcome … which was never on the cards as the English FA, which would have driven any campaign from within football to get a dispensation, are actually pretty relaxed about the whole thing.
Give them their due, they have at least been working on this for months.
Their submission, which is likely to be rubber-stamped by Westminster, is horrific in its implications for our game here. It’s not clear what role the SFA has played in that, if any, although it will have a momentous impact on football in Scotland.
We have literally let others lead the way.
The rules which are about to come into effect – on 1 January, by the way – require that players in England reach a threshold of 15 “points”, awarded on the basis of certain criteria such as the transfer fee and the wages and the quality of the league from which the players are coming … the 15 points are tough enough to reach.
Here’s where letting the FA run the show was just ridiculous; they wanted the bar set much higher.
It seems that it’s the EPL which has negotiated them down.
Scottish football has been treated as an afterthought, and those running things here seem to have been perfectly content to be considered as one.
It’s only now, with it on the horizon, that Plan B has been put into effect, which is to have the SFA lobby Westminster, with the clock ticking loudly, with only two weeks to go, for us to be allowed to keep the current system for non-EU players – which is that a panel can decide on exceptions – through the coming window.
Even if we get that, if we get a system for January where EU players are subjected to the same rules as currently apply in Scotland when signing non-EU footballers, that will only be a temporary respite before the points system comes into effect in the summer.
This is a total failure on the part of the SFA, and another example, it seems to me, of why that whole organisation needs reformed.
As the biggest club in the country we have failed lamentably to do that and now we, and everyone else, will pay a high, high price for it with effects the game here will be living with for years, and perhaps decades, to come.
I cannot believe how badly governed football in Scotland is, or that Celtic is content to allow it.