The global economic crisis is causing a major shift in the demographics of European soccer with cash-strapped Spain and Portugal witnessing an exodus of talent to rival leagues, a study has found.
The survey also found that Greece, where some clubs struggle to stay afloat, has become a virtual no-go zone for foreign players in their prime because of meagre financial rewards.
"The percentage of players imported from abroad at European level has never been as high as in the current season," said Raffaele Poli, the co-author of the report released by the International Centre for Sports Studies.
"Of the top 31 division leagues of Uefa member associations we surveyed, 36.1 per cent of all squad members grew up in a different national association to that of their employer club."
The migration, which was studied in 2011 and last year, also showed that the sport was no longer a buffer against the fluctuating fortunes of economics that it once was.
"We often say that football is the last defence against the economic crisis, that it is anti-cyclical," added Poli.
"But it's not the case in Greece. Not only has the level of local players in the Greek league fallen by 15 per cent between 2011 and 2012, but the number of Greek players now appearing for foreign clubs has also increased.
"Historically, Greek clubs were attractive to foreigners, focusing on players who were in the latter stages of their careers after having played in the best leagues.
"Now, nationals and foreign players are looking elsewhere."
In Spain, where there has been more of a tradition of developing local players, the effects of the financial crisis are just as damaging. There were 114 Spaniards wearing the colours of a foreign club in the 31 leagues surveyed in 2011; that figure had risen to 148 last year.
Portuguese players featuring for clubs abroad rose by 41 to stand at 171.
The international sports studies centre said the exodus of Spanish talent was partly driven by the commercial muscle that Real Madrid and Barcelona enjoy.
"They are the two biggest clubs. They negotiate individual television rights, which results in a very uneven distribution of wealth, while others have only crumbs," said Poli. "Zaragoza, Mallorca, Deportivo, Malaga and Valencia all have financial difficulties. Suddenly, the foreign labour decreases or at least does not increase."
Brazil remains by far the top exporting country.
However, the overall number of Brazilians has fallen slightly during the past year, from 524 to 515. Conversely, players from the second most represented origin, France, have significantly increased from 245 to 269.
The study found that overall expatriate footballers represent more than one quarter of players in all positions, with a record high of 44.3 per cent among forwards.
Their percentage is above 50 per cent in six championships out of the 31 that the centre surveyed in its study - Cyprus, England, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Turkey.