FA believes relaxing work permit rules could help reduce cost of overseas stars

All overseas players – including those from the EU – must now qualify through a points-based system.

Jamie Gardner
Saturday 04 March 2023 17:59 GMT
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham believes a limited relaxation to existing work permit rules could enable clubs to sign genuine world-class talent at an earlier stage (Aaron Chown/PA)
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham believes a limited relaxation to existing work permit rules could enable clubs to sign genuine world-class talent at an earlier stage (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

The Football Association believes a limited relaxation of post-Brexit rules on work permits for overseas players could be the answer to help clubs attract star talent at lower prices while still giving opportunities to homegrown players.

Since Britain left the European Union in 2020 all players from EU countries have been required to obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA on a points-based system in order to play in England.

Brexit also meant clubs had to wait until a player from an EU country was at least 18 to sign them, rather than 16 previously.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit earlier this week that those two issues had contributed to top-flight clubs smashing the January transfer record for spending, with clubs having to sign more expensive, established talents.

His FA counterpart, Mark Bullingham, says twice as many foreign players have been signed by English clubs in each of the last two transfer windows as any window previously, and added that although it has now become more difficult to sign EU players since Brexit, it is easier to sign non-EU players than it was previously.

He believes the answer may be to allow clubs to sign a limited number of players on a lower points system. He is concerned that only 28 per cent of top-flight starters last weekend were English-qualified, and 30 per cent across the season.

“Our position is that the current system does have challenges. It’s not perfect, and we want to continue to refine that,” he said.

“The one that a lot of Premier League clubs will pull out is ‘can they get access to world-class talent earlier?’

“‘Can they get access to a slightly broader range of players?’ Their perception is partly that some of the transfer fees are a result of them going after a small number of players.

“I think the reality is there’s only a small number of players who actually will be adding value to the Premier League teams and if you have a bidding war for a player, it’s always going to drive up the price. And if you look at two examples, both (Enzo) Fernandez and (Mykhailo) Mudryk – actually, they were lined up by Premier League clubs last year and would have got approval for a work permit, and they then were bought this year for probably 20 times more than they would have been bought for last year.

“There are two problems to resolve: one is ‘is there a way of giving broader access but in a limited way?’

“And then the second one is ‘how do we get more England-qualified players playing time?’

“That is going to need compromise on all sides. For example, you can have a system that allows clubs to sign a small number of players on a lower points system.

“That allows them then to sign an obvious world talent, you can sign him before he can get the requisite number of points. You sign him when he’s £3million rather than waiting until he’s £30million.

“The key is there is a control on it to make sure that you’re not just opening the floodgates. We wouldn’t be saying ‘OK, just lower the immigration bar and flood in more talent’ because we’re at 28 per cent.”

The issue forms part of the ongoing ‘New Deal For Football’ discussions between the FA, Premier League and EFL which also covers financial distribution, cost controls and the domestic calendar.

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