In most nations across the globe, non-citizens require some type of work permit before they can be legally employed there. These laws typically apply to professional athletes along with everybody else. And it’s because of these rules that the English Premier League has recently become embroiled in a countrywide debate between many British citizens. Basically, millions of soccer fans and several Football Association (FA) executives believe the borders should be at least partially closed when it comes to foreign imports from non-European Union (EU) nations.
As it stands now, soccer players from European Union nations are free to ply their trade in England due to the current all-for-one and one-for-all laws that exist throughout the EU. That’s why fans see so many stars from countries such as Spain, Germany, Italy and France etc… taking to the pitch for Premier League clubs week after week. However, there’s a different set of rules for players from non-EU homelands as they have to apply for and be granted a work permit by the British government before they can suit up in England. This typically includes players from South American, North American and Africa.
Therefore, when Premier League managers recruit overseas players from these continents they must first acquire a work permit for their recruits before the deal can be stamped as official. The British Home Office has set out specific criteria which these players must meet before they’re granted a permit. One of the reasons for this is to protect the jobs of homegrown British nationals. Without any type of legislation in place there would be nothing to stop a deluge of foreign players from perceivably taking the jobs of British citizens.
There’s no question that British-born players are now taking a back seat to their foreign counterparts when it comes to the Premier League. Statistics show that when the league was born back in 1992, English players made up 69 per cent of total playing time. In the 2013-14 season a study carried out by the BBC revealed this number had dropped dramatically to just 32.4 per cent. The study also showed it was mainly the league’s biggest and richest teams that were using the fewest English players. These include Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
What are the rules?
The current rules are in place to prevent mediocre players from turning up on English shores and being handed a roster spot over a local player. The requirements for a work permit aren’t too stringent. They state that a non-EU player must have represented his homeland in 75 per cent of his country’s international games in the previous two years. In addition, the country’s national team must be ranked by FIFA as one of the world’s top 70 squads. But there’s also a loophole in the system which enables a club to appeal against the rules if their newly-acquired player doesn’t meet the requirements.
Teams are allowed to argue to a panel of English Football League and Football Association members that the player in question is good enough to compete in the Premier League and will actually be able to improve it with his presence. This argument has often been used for Brazilian players who haven’t represented their national teams the required amount of times. The most famous appeal case in this instance was Chelsea’s acquisition of Brazilian midfielder Willian, who hadn’t played for his country’s national team enough times to qualify when Chelsea applied for his work permit.
Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English FA, hopes to make things harder for non-EU players when it comes to acquiring work permits. The main reason for this according to Dyke, is to give more playing opportunities to English youngsters which in turn will help strengthen the national team for tournaments such as the European Championship and World Cup. Figures showed that out of 373 non-British players who were used in the Premier League in 2013/14, a total of 92 of them appeared in fewer than 10 games. This leads critics to wonder why they’re considered to be key members of their teams when applying for work permits when in reality they’re not really needed.
This is something Dyke wants the Home Office to look at when work permits are being handed out. The Home Office granted the Premier League the power to manage players’ visa applications back in 2008 with a system known as the Governing Body Endorsement. The Home Office generally allows the league to recommend whether or not a player should be granted a work permit because it’s being viewed as experts regarding the skills and impact of overseas soccer players. The rules were put in place to allow the world’s best players into England while keeping the mediocre ones at bay. But with about 25 per cent of them playing less than 10 games last season it’s obvious too many average players are slipping through the cracks.
What changes does the FA want?
The FA reported that 80 per cent of non-EU players who were turned down for a work permit between May 2009 and May of 2014 were awarded one after their clubs appealed the original decision. The association also announced that a total of 122 foreign players entered England in that same time period and 58 per cent of them never played again in the Premier League after their first season. It’s because of numbers like these that the FA is now pushing for new, stricter work-permit regulations.
Dyke is proposing that all English soccer leagues under the Premier League shouldn’t be allowed to sign non-EU players and non-EU Premier League players should be forbidden to move to another team via the current loan system. He also wants to see these players having to come from a top-50 FIFA-ranked nation rather than a top-70 team. However, he also proposes the players must have appeared in just 30 per cent of their country’s international contests during the past two years if their team is ranked in the top 30 by FIFA. This is down from the current 75 per cent and would make it easier to acquire a work permit.
Dyke isn’t finished here though as he would like to see a transfer-exemption introduced which would allow non-EU players to obtain a permit if a Premier League club paid a minimum amount of money for their transfer, such as 10 or 15 million British pounds. In addition, he believes the current appeals system should be scrapped and only used for technical issues such as applications that have been incorrectly filled out. According to Dyke, clubs will then think twice about buying mediocre foreign players if it’s going to cost them at least 10 or 15 million pounds.
These proposed regulations would be introduced to prevent English teams from taking advantage of poorer non-EU economies where players can be bought relatively cheap. If Premier League clubs don’t import as many players, Dyke believes they will have to develop more homegrown youngsters in their academies which in turn will benefit England’s national squad. Of course, there are plenty of people who oppose a new set of rules. Some believe if younger, inexperienced players aren’t given work permits the English clubs will have to spend a great deal more money to acquire their services once they become established stars in other countries. They point to Manchester United’s Angel di Maria and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure as players who weren’t granted permits as teenagers, but were then bought from Spanish clubs at astronomical transfer fees.
Another example came from Arsenal, who attempted to sign Villareal’s Gabriel Paulista, who has yet to earn a cap for Brazil. Arsene Wenger offered his opinion on the rules: “Ideally it would open completely and anyone can come in,” he said.
He also claimed that Arsenal was denied a chance to sign Angel Di Maria:”We had identified Di Maria when he was 17,” said Wenger. “We saw him in an international competition and we wanted him to come here, but he went to Portugal and then to Spain. Why? Because he could not get a work permit for England. What does it mean if he comes into the country anyway, later on? It means you can only get him to England once he is worth a huge amount of money and who do you pay this huge amount of money to?
Wenger continued,”it goes to a club like Real Madrid and they don’t need the money. We have to be conscious of that.”
Is there a fair solution?
It appears there are no easy answers to the perceived problem of non-EU players invading the English Premier League. Even with Dyke’s proposed new rules the system can easily be exploited by rich clubs that are willing to shell out the minimum transfer fee for players they desire. This will likely result in higher ticket prices for fans and it could be seen as a waste of English money due to nothing more than new regulations. Basically, the new rules could result in any player being brought to England as long as the club acquiring him is willing to pay the minimum transfer fee. This will mean poorer teams will be at a decided disadvantage and the gap between the haves and the have-nots will widen.
Not surprisingly, Premier League clubs are opposed to new work-permit rules and the British Home Office has now demanded that English soccer bodies come to an agreement on the situation. But supporters of stricter rules are asking why soccer players are able to sidestep the system which is in place for the average working person. They argue that it’s the government’s job to introduce and enforce the laws and the Premier League shouldn’t have any say in the process. But the teams state that the number of players who enter the country via the appeals process is just a small fraction of the overall transfers and denying them work permits won’t have much of an affect.
Critics of the Premier League insist the clubs are just looking out for themselves as they don’t want to be forced into paying a minimum transfer fee or a minimum wage, which of course will dig into their profits. In the meantime, while the Premier League and FA bicker back and forth over the rules for work permits, the government hasn’t stepped in to put an end to the debate and young English players continue to be often overlooked in favour of mediocre non-EU talent.
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