Foreign players in the Premier League: What impact will the FA's work permit changes have on the game?


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The Independent Football

Q | Why is the FA doing this now?

A | To increase the number of English players in the Premier League. The FA chairman, Greg Dyke, launched his England Commission in September 2013 with this express intention. England has talented young players but they are not breaking into Premier League first teams in the same numbers that German, French, Spanish or Italian players do.

The commission’s first recommendation made last year – the creation of Premier League “B teams” who would play lower down the football pyramid – was not well received. The commission is now exploring other options.

Q | What happens next? When will this take effect?

A | The changes are expected to receive Home Office approval on 1 May, in time for the summer transfer window. Clubs attempting to sign foreign players of unproven quality from outside the European Union will find it much harder to do so.

Q | Will the action be retrospective?

A | No. Players such as Stoke City’s Mame Biram Diouf, who would not have met the new criteria at the time they were signed, will not be affected.


Q | Who is in favour of this happening?

A | The Premier League, the Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association and the League Managers’ Association have all been involved in a six-month consultation. The eventual proposals received unanimous support.

Q | How much of an impact will it have?

A | The new £5.1bn TV deal will only increase the temptation for clubs to spend big on short-term solutions in the form of foreign signings, but this will make it significantly harder. There are currently around 40 players in the Premier League who would not be there under these new rules. There is very little that can be done to stop clubs signing EU talent in place of non-EU talent, but if half of these 40 places could be taken up by English players it would constitute an almost 33 per cent rise in the current pool.

Q | What sort of players wouldn’t have made the Premier League if this had been introduced before?

A | With some exceptions, a host of forgettable names. Gabriel Paulista who was signed by Arsenal in January, would have been fine, as would Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho.

Japanese winger Ryo Miyaichi, who has spent many years out on loan from Arsenal, having signed from a Japanese high school, would not have been approved. Nor would Stoke City’s American Geoff Cameron, or Brek Shea, who has since left Stoke City for Orlando City.

Honduran international Roger Espinoza, who has now left Wigan Athletic for Sporting Kansas City is another example.

Q | How badly are we off in terms of the foreign/home players ratio compared with other countries?

A | Germany’s top division is currently made up of 60 per cent German players. In Spain, the figure is 59 per cent. This year the Premier League is 35 per cent English, but that number has been significantly skewed by the arrival of Burnley and their mainly English squad. Should Watford, and their horde of foreign imports, replace them next season that number will likely be closer to 31 per cent.

Another of the FA commission’s suggestions is to decrease from 17 to 13 the maximum number of non-home-grown players in a 25-man squad. None of the three English teams to make it to the Champions League knockout stages met this criterion.

All eight of the teams in the competition’s quarter-finals, from Real Madrid to Porto, meet the criterion easily. If English clubs are not even beating these teams, what benefit are we getting?

Q | When can England fans expect to see the benefit of these changes?

A | Dyke has always said 2022 is the next tournament England can imagine they have a reasonable chance of winning. Work permit reform is just one measure aimed at increasing the number of English players available, and its impact will be far less transformative than, say, the £5.1bn that will soon be flooding Premier League clubs’ balance sheets, and all the easier, chequebook-oriented options it will make available.

Q | What else has the commission done?

A | Among its other proposals is to make the definition of home-grown players more home-grown, in that they must have played in England for a substantial period as an under-16. Dyke still believes there is value in his B team proposal, but admits it is now very unlikely to happen after it was met with such derision last year. “There is no point flogging a dead horse,” he said.