Arsenal are closing in on their transfer target Mohamed Elneny, but the signing of the Egyptian is still subject to the Football Association’s new work-permit regulations.
Elneny has passed his medical as Arsenal line up a £7.3 million deal for the Basel midfielder.
But FA chairman Greg Dyke oversaw the introduction of a new work-permit system last summer, designed to make it harder for players from outside the European Economic Area to play in England. Dyke saw the old system as allowing in too many non-elite players from outside the EEA, restricting the opportunities of English players.
Under the old system, automatic work permits were granted to players who had played 75 per cent of his country’s games over the previous 24 months. If they were unsuccessful, the club could appeal, and succeeded 80 per cent of the time.
The FA has tried to replace this with a more accountable, transparent system, with clearer but stricter rules. The old 75 per cent requirement for an automatic work permit has gone and been replaced by a tiered system. Countries are banded by Fifa ranking, with players from the top 10 countries needing to have played only 30 per cent of their games over the previous 24 months, increasing to 45 per cent for countries 11 to 20, 60 per cent for 21 to 30 and 75 per cent for 31-50. The problem for Arsenal is that Egypt have dropped out of the top 50 in the Fifa rankings, to 57th. This means that Elneny is ineligible for an automatic work permit and must be judged by the new Exceptions Panel instead.
The old appeal system was thought to be too open and subject to influence so it has been replaced by a points system based on objective criteria. These include the size of the transfer fee, the salary the player will earn, the ranking of the league the player has been playing in, and whether his club has been playing in European competition.
One of the drawbacks of the new system is that it is easier for the big clubs to fulfil salary and transfer-fee criteria. Clubs might pay more to ensure the player clears the points requirements – although this is not the case with the Elneny deal – which could in turn inflate salaries and fees elsewhere.
The FA estimates that a third of the players granted work permits under the old rules would not pass now. Leon Angel, chairman of agency Base Soccer, said: “It will restrict who comes in. It will make clubs think if it is worth going for a player, or put them off even trying if they think they are going to have trouble with the work permit.”
As a result, clubs will be reluctant to look at cheaper players from Africa and South America who might not pass the criteria.
The real issue, though, is the fact that most Premier League teams are stocked with European players – because they tend to be better and more affordable than their British counterparts– not those from outside the EEA. But it is impossible to stop players from the EEA.
“Clubs will look to France, Belgium or Holland,” said Angel. “It will push prices up in Europe, because there will be more demand for Belgian and Dutch players. But they will still be cheaper than English players.”