Brexit, Mess-exit, and Spainxit. Exits are in vogue, but all three may have a relative significance. Messi’s decision was an emotional one, open to renunciation in a more reflective moment; Spain, after their 2-0 loss to Italy at Euro 2016, are still a good team, not a great one, but they must and can rebuild. And the Brexit? Will it severely impact soccer and the chance Latin American players have to head to English shores?
The UK leaving the European Union is a spine-tingling moment in post-modern history, with all spheres of life affected. In soccer, the ramifications will be rather limited, but a few pitfalls and twists can’t be excluded.
Membership in the EU, or the smaller and less stringent cousin, the EEA, turns around four pillars, including the free movement of labor. Foreigners, including futbolistas, can’t be discriminated against as a consequence. A player from outside the EU or EEA needs to obtain a work permit and fulfill a number of criteria. So once Britain enacts the Brexit, a process that ostensibly may take a lot of time, any non-British player (not just a non-EU player) would have to go through the work permit process.
Argentine forward Leonardo Ulloa from Premier League champions Leicester would potentially lose the right to play in the UK.
A player from a top 10 nation must have only played in 30 percent of his games in the two years prior to the date of application to be granted a work permit. That number steadily increases further down the tier ladder, a way of preserving quality in the Premier League.
In their next-to-last game of the season, Premier League champions Leicester fielded six players from outside the UK, including Argentine Leonardo Ulloa, who’d potentially lose the right to play in the UK. Argentine forward Ulloa has never been play for Argentina’s National Team; he moved to Premier League against odds thanks to his EU passport after playing continually for more than five years in Spain.
But the Brexit pertains only to EU players, and as such, not all Latin American players will be affected. For now, the existing work permit regulations will be applicable and the big stars – the likes of Sergio Aguero, Erik Lamela, and Philippe Coutinho – will not be affected in any way, because they are stars on their national team.
In fact, like in life, Brexit will affect soccer’s underdogs.
However, the work permit regulations are not a cunning invention in a dark bunker. The British Home Office, in conjunction with the English FA, conceives and writes them. If English soccer were to be severely impacted, the regulations can be altered, depending on the attitude the FA takes in its negotiations with the Home Office. They can be tweaked in a manner so that quality players from Latin American countries and elsewhere still have a relatively easy pathway to the Premier League.
A post-Brexit Britain may also offer a chance to more homegrown players – the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Tyler Blackett. English football could indeed revert to the pre-Bosman era – the ruling rendered by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in December 1995 – further cementing the free movement of players with the introduction of a quota system.
Sepp Blatter, the embodiment of impervious soccer officialdom, once proposed a “six plus five” quota to stimulate the development and progress of homegrown players: at least six players in a first team had to be from the home country of the club, according to Blatter. This would give English players more playing time and, in turn – possibly but not necessarily – strengthen the England national team. The Premier League, where soccer is considered a multi-billion dollar product and young players are expected to develop into global stars on English soil, would object. Alternatively, Britain could agree to bilateral deals with countries to ease the passage of players.
But these two options – quotas and bilateral agreements – seem unlikely, a watering down of the work permits rules doesn’t. Ultimately, how the UK “Brexits” (a nebulous proposition now) will define the consequences for the game. So both England and English football are in a state of flux, but at least one Brexit has come off to pass: on Monday, Iceland and an 18th minute goal of striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson sank England in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.