‘Top players face expulsion from English Premier League’ – Pro-EU camp uses scaremongering tactics to tackle Brexit supporters
Players such as Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, among others, may be forced to leave England, though the UK is unlikely to evict such talent
Within hours of the English Premier League’s legion of international players returning to their clubs after the Euro 2016 warm-up friendlies, Project Fear was putting the frighteners on football supporters.
Pro-European Union doomsayers warned many of the Premier League’s biggest stars would be forced pack their bags if the UK votes to leave the world’s largest trading block in June’s referendum.
No area of British life is immune from the in-out debate and both the Remain and Leave camps have resorted to scaremongering with hypotheticals and “end-of-the-world-is-nigh” predictions.
They believe the British public needs to be frightened into voting for their side of the argument; rational persuasion using facts has been replaced by nightmare scenarios.
The Britain Stronger In Europe campaign claimed British football would be “drastically” changed if we vote out and that leaving the EU would have “devastating consequences”, especially on the English and Scottish leagues.
The Brussels-huggers claimed if fans decide to join with the Euro-sceptics and bid adieu to our European brethren on June 23, player recruitment would be thrown into turmoil.
Studies released this week backed their argument, detailing how, if the world wakes up in a Brexit scenario on June 24, over 100 of the Premier League’s marquee players would be eligible for eviction under the current system.
Currently, players with EU passports can sign for UK clubs without needing a visa or special work permit thanks to the Union’s freedom of movement. This makes it efficient for UK clubs to secure top talent from across Europe during the pan-European bidding wars of seasonal transfer windows.
Non-EU nationals, however, must meet the UK’s Home Office criteria to qualify for a visa, the most important being able to prove themselves to be of the “highest calibre”, typically defined by representing their country.
If the UK leaves the EU, up to 400 EU players in the England and the Scottish higher tiers would fail to meet the current standards, according to a study.
Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Watford face losing 11 players from their squads, while Championship side Charlton Athletic would need to find 13 replacements.
Just 23 of the 180 non-British EU players currently playing in the Championship would get work permits – and most of those are former internationals from Ireland or Commonwealth nations with British passports.
None of the 53 non-British EU players in the Scottish Premiership would qualify for a permit on the basis of their international career alone.
What if the Premier League’s Belgium contingent suffered a dip in form and were considered not good enough to play for their country?
As far-fetched as it seems, would Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, Tottenham’s Toby Adlerweld, Liverpool’s Christian Benteke, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany and Kevin de Bruyne and Manchester Utd’s Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj be heading for the door?
Likewise the French, Germans, Spanish, Irish, Italians, Portuguese and Polish, et al? Seemingly so.
No wonder the Remain camp has warned football club chairmen that leaving the EU would “hurt our leagues, create uncertainty for European transfers and be a step back from the next generation of footballers”.
It also claimed fans would be stung by higher costs for European away games and the UK’s grassroots amateur leagues would forfeit EU development grants.
One certain benefit of leaving the EU would see UK clubs concentrate more on home-grown talent. And the UK, free of EU diktats, would be able to lower freedom-of-movement restrictions on the rest of the world which would “broaden the talent pool, not reduce it”.
A quota system and bilateral deals with the likes of player factories Argentina and Brazil to make it easier for their players to work in the UK have been mooted, as have concessions to work permit rules to gain access to the EU market if the UK goes it alone.
The truth is no one knows what will change and how much impact leaving the EU will have on British politics, the economy, our education, health service and housing – our long-term future and that of our children’s – let alone football.
But given the Premier League’s soft power and huge money generation – not to mention the way of life for many of its citizens – the UK government is not going to evict EU players ahead of the next season or any for that matter.