Wednesday 9 December 2020 9:49 am

Post-Brexit transfer rules: How they work and why legal experts believe they are good for English football

Post-Brexit transfer rules will be “easier and better” for English clubs and “a good thing for football”, according to a leading immigration lawyer.

From January 2021, all overseas signings will have to prove their eligibility via a points system that takes into account factors including how many games they have played.

In addition, English clubs will be forbidden from recruiting foreign players under 18 and limited in how many overseas 18-21-year-olds they may sign.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has criticised the changes, questioning whether they will help or hinder English football’s development.

But Maria Patsalos, a partner at Mishcon de Reya and specialist in immigration law, says she welcomes the changes.

“The rules have got a lot easier and better for British clubs,” Patsalos told City A.M.

“The clear reason for that is, because of Brexit, we need to make sure we are still competitive.

“It looks complicated so it will take a little bit of getting used to. But the bottom line is this is much easier and it is a welcome change.”

How rules affect European players

The Home Office last week approved the post-Brexit transfer rules, which the Football Association, Premier League and English Football League proposed. 

Criticism of the changes has centred on the fact that entry requirements have toughened for European players.

Until now, any EU footballer had the right to work in Britain under freedom of movement rules. 

On the other hand, however, the entry requirements represent a relaxation of the criteria for non-EU players.

So while it may be getting trickier to sign European unknowns, it will be easier to buy fairly well established South American or African talent previously out of reach.

“The market has opened up completely for the non-EU players, because it’s much easier to get them in,” Patsalos said. 

“For the EU players, we are striking a balance between the free-for-all we had and the really stringent position we had for the non-EU players.”

Rule change not as strict as feared

While the post-Brexit transfer rules have tightened in some respects, notably regarding younger players, it could have been far worse.

Patsalos says there were fears that the strict entry criteria previously applied to non-EU players would become the norm for all signings.

“Historically, the UK’s immigration criteria for footballers has been the most stringent in Europe,” she added.

“As someone who has worked in immigration for almost 15 years, generally when there are changes, things get harder. 

“So I’m pleasantly surprised that our worst fears have not been realised. I think this is a good change and a good thing for football.”

How post-Brexit transfer rules work

Potential signings from overseas must prove they meet the English FA’s criteria for a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE).

Players who have played a certain percentage of their country’s international games in the past two years qualify automatically.

For a top-10 ranked nation, that can be as few as 30 per cent of matches. For a nation ranked between 31 and 50, it is 70 per cent. Players from nations ranked below that must rely on other criteria.

Those who do not get an automatic pass must accumulate 15 points via a series of other criteria.

These include the percentage of minutes played for his domestic team; the standard of league that team plays in; percentage of minutes played in European competition; and how well the selling club performed in the previous season.

Overseas players aged 18-21 – of whom English clubs may only sign three per transfer window – can also earn points for their participation in domestic and international youth competitions.

“The points are actually very flexible,” Patsalos said. “You can get points for all sorts of different things – playing in various cups, playing at national level, youth level.

“I think it strikes the right balance between making sure the old, really stringent test has gone and making sure it’s not a free-for-all.”

Are there any exceptions?

If a player narrowly fails to attain an automatic pass or the required 15 points because of “exceptional circumstances”, their cases can be referred to a panel.

However, this provision will be available for the January 2021 transfer window only; it will be abolished after that.

“That doesn’t really change anything too much,” said Patsalos. “Everything is so clear now and there are so many options for getting the points.”