The real problem at the heart of the football and Brexit debate

Alberto Tarantini – one of the many non-EU players that have appeared in English footballers down the years.

FOOTBALL has often be used as a political tool, but it has now crept into the grand discussion over Britain’s membership of the European Union. It was inevitable, but what has been said so far is akin to scaremongering on the part of strategically-placed comments in the media by the government.

Karren Brady, or to use her correct society name, Baroness Brady, has sent out a warning that if Britain does depart the EU, hundreds of foreign Premier League footballers will have to leave the country.

How very selective! For a start, those that are here will be allowed to continue to be here, and in all probability, those that she is claiming will have to leave, i.e. European Union members, will no doubt be able to take advantage of some kind of reciprocal agreement that will emerge with the EU.

The scaremongers are foreseeing problems over work permits, visas, right to work agreements and all kinds of legislation that will prevent English clubs from scooping-up players from continental Europe. Nobody is applying the same logic to English players wanting to move abroad – I wonder why? Italy, after all, is like a foreign country! *

Baroness Brady is claiming that Brexit will mean a setback for the next generation of footballers. Should she really be that worried about that? She is a director of an English club, perhaps she should be more concerned about the effect that multinational team-building is having on youth development and the England team?

Brexit may amplify the over-reliance of foreign players in England

And she says it will affect the ability of English clubs to compete in Europe. Well, the signs are, in the past few years, that England’s clubs, despite their marketability and seemingly unlimited resources derived from broadcasting, have actually already lost competitiveness.

What exactly will be the problem? All said and done, it may mean that EU-based players may find it harder to get a work permit. Is that such a hardship? Clubs have been getting work permits for non-EU players for years. There have been very few problems so far, so why would it be any different if the EU is suddenly treated the same way as, for example, players from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay? Clubs have already shown they can get their own way.

For example, Arsenal’s squad may have 16 EU and nine UK players, but it also includes seven non-EU players, from Brazil, Colombia, Chile and so on. Chelsea have nine non-EU players, originating from Ghana, the US, Burkina Faso and other more exotic locations. And Manchester City have more non-EU players than those from outside the UK but still in the EU. Doesn’t seem to have been too much of a chore so far.

Baroness Brady’s comments seem to be as much about self-interest on behalf of her club and also a political favour for Mr. Cameron – she is a Tory Peer, after all. But there is no acknowledgement that leaving the EU may also provide an opportunity to recalibrate English football.

Greg Dyke, who has thrown the towel at the FA, has suggested he fears for the future of English football, a game that is owned, managed and played by foreigners. The influx of foreign players has brought many things to the Premier League, but it has also marginalised a generation of young footballers. The England team is one of the worst in history and our top teams run-out with no allegiance to the town or city that their club represents. Surely, regardless of whether the country decides to stay in the European Union or send itself into exile, there is a better way to run football?

Needless to say, if Britain stays in the EU, nothing will change for the game, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. If the vote says no, there may be an enforced chance to modify the system, introduce quotas and more closely align the interests of the national team with the Premier League’s top clubs.

This is not about Brexit, though, but the debate can bring to the table the ongoing destruction of our footballing identity. Foreign players have enriched the game in England, there is absolutely no question of that, but do clubs in League One, League Two, and even some sections of non-league, really need to hire foreign players in preference to local lads And, I suggest it is far from morally correct to fill youth teams with overseas talent when clubs consistently trumpet they are part of the “local” community.

Most football fans complain that their clubs are full of foreign players and, in most cases, this comment is made to highlight the lack of youngsters coming through the system. Fans love to see players who represent “us” – which is why John Terry, Harry Kane and Jack Wilshere (remember him?) are so appreciated when they turn out for their clubs. I saw the same at Millwall recently with their young defender Sid Nelson. He’s from Lewisham and the fans give him every encouragement, because he’s almost “one of us”.

Like everyone else, I have enjoyed the presence of players of the calibre of Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp, David Ginola and Didier Drogba in the Premier League. But there is a happy medium, and that’s what clubs should be seeking out. Instead of trying to scare fans that Brexit will signal the end of football as we know it, more effort should be made to rebalance hiring policies. As it is, there’s one thing Brexit will expose – the farcical imbalances in the game. And that’s what football’s administrators may just be a little frightened of. If England ever wants to be a credible force in international football, things have to change!

Quote: * Ian Rush, 1988.

twitter: @gameofthepeople

3 thoughts on “The real problem at the heart of the football and Brexit debate

  1. excellent commentary. karen brady is nothing if not blinkered and out of her depth by
    throwing her keys into the pot of politics

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