The UK left the EU at the end of 2020 and with the end of freedom of movement came a new regime for football transfers with players coming from an EU country now requiring a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) to be able to play in the UK. The January transfer window was generally quiet with not much money being spent (impact of Covid has perhaps some responsibility for that) but the only comments I can find regarding the new system from a prominent manager came from Sam Allardyce. The West Brom head coach made comments early in the window that the new system was making it harder for him. On January 4th, he told reporters…
‘I have found three players already who were capable of coming here and they’re not allowed. It’s a shame. Due to the new regulations in terms of the permit they were unable to come to this country, whereas (previously) they would have done. I have to look at that and think ‘can he qualify?’
With Freedom of Movement coming to an end in 2021, the new rules proposed by The Football Association, the Premier League and the English Football League were approved by the Home Office in December. The FA claimed ‘The system meets the joint objectives of the Premier League, EFL and the FA allowing access to the best players and future talent for clubs, as well as safeguarding England teams, by ensuring opportunities for homegrown players’.
That is the stated aim. Basically, any EU national will be subject to the same immigration rules as players from other countries and they will require a GBE before being allowed to sign. To qualify, a player must score 15 points and that can be built up from a variety of the calibre of the club they are playing for and how they performed. Did they play in continental competitions? That plays a part but the easiest way for a player to qualify is through international football. If a player plays for a top 10 ranked nation, then they need to have played at least 30% of the available minutes and increasingly more as you work your way down the rankings but if a player represents a nation outside the top 50 then they are not guaranteed an ‘Auto Pass’ and can only score 2 points.
That means it is aimed at bringing in only the highest level of player. So, Premier League clubs are unlikely to be impacted by the rules when signing big-name players. It would not have impacted the likes of Sergio Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the other big-name signings. However, if you are a club in the championship looking for a potential bargain, it is something that needs to be considered as discussed by employment and immigration lawyer Charlotte Smith with the Daily Mail…
‘Many current Championship players would not meet the new criteria. Whilst the majority of League One and League Two and Women’s Championship players are UK or Irish nationals, prospective recruits from abroad will be unlikely to obtain an endorsement.’
Exemptions are permissible for players who score between 10 and 14 points. They will require ‘exceptional circumstances’ to have prevented them from hitting 15 points or are a young player of promise. A young player is defined as 21 or younger.
Returning to Allardyce, he did not reveal who those three players but with that in mind, I thought I would take a look at some of the past transfers made by Premier League clubs in the past and whether they would have happened under these rules.
The Frenchman [Pictured above in the feature image; from Bleacher Report] is a World Cup and two-time Premier League winner with Chelsea and Leicester City. However, at the time of his arrival in English football, it is unclear whether he would have passed these rules. Leicester singed Knate from SM Caen in 2015 after finishing 15th in Ligue 1. That season, he played the vast majority of their games so would have secured 13 points through his sides finishing position in the league and by playing in the vast majority of their games. He had not caught the attention of the international side as of yet and had no youth international career. So, that 13 points would be his final total.
Another member of Leicester’s 2016 title-winning side who has become an established name in England is Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian joined Leicester in January 2014, halfway during their promotion season from the Championship from French Ligue 2 side Le Harve. Up to that stage of the 2013/14 season, Mahrez had played in 19 of Le Harve’s 21 games and with Ligue 2 being a Band 4 competition, he would have scored an additional 6 points. That takes him to 14. As of that time of career, he was without any international experience so could score no more points. Being over the age of 21, Mahrez may not have been able to arrive in English football when he did as Leicester would have had to go through an unlikely appeals process.
A current Leicester player, the Spaniard’s career would have been very different under these rules. Perez joined Newcastle in a £1.8m deal from La Liga 2 side CD Tenerife. Perez featured in 36 out of Tenerife’s 43 games in the 2014/15 season and with La Liga 2 being a Band 4 competition would have scored around 4 or 5 points for his appearances and an additional 6 for the league quality. With only two U21 international appearances for Spain, he would not have secured any points for international appearances. Being 21 when he joined Newcastle, they could have made the case of an appeal for but it is unclear if he would have been allowed to join.
The midfielder joined Arsenal from Atletico Madrid in the final hours of the transfer window, even requiring a deal sheet to get the deal done after the window had actually closed. Such a late deal would not be allowed under the new rules with a GBE being required to be submitted before midday on transfer deadline day. This was a transfer saga that seemed to go on for most of the transfer window and given how Arsenal eventually secured the deal by paying Partey’s release clause, the gunners would probably have acted sooner if these rules had been in place.
Virgil Van Dijk
Today, Virgil Van Dijk is a key element of Liverpool’s defence under Jurgen Klopp and his absence through injury this season has been sorely felt. He first came to the UK by joining Celtic from FC Groningen in 2013. I wasn’t initially sure as Van Dijk had no international experience, barely any at youth level up to that point. I think he would have qualified for that transfer. The Dutchman would have scored 10 points for his appearances for Groningen in the 2012/13 season but as they finished 7th in the Eredivisie that season they would not have scored a point for that. That said, he would also have collected 10 points for the league quality with the Eredivisie being a Band 2 competition. So, the defender’s arrival to the UK with Celtic would not have been an issue.
The right-back has been a mainstay at Arsenal since getting his first team opportunity in 2014. Since then, Bellerin has made over 170 appearances for Arsenal, wining the FA Cup three times but under these rules, he would not have been able to join the Gunners when he did. Like his compatriot Fabregas seven years prior, he joined from Barcelona in 2011 at the age of 16. His career may well have looked very different under these rules.
The Spaniard joined Manchester City in 2017 from Barcelona, another in a long line to have left Barca to play their football in the Premier League at a young age. In his time at Man City, he has been afforded first-team opportunities under Pep Guardiola in the past 12 months having made 16 appearances in total. However, being under 18 at the time he joined, he would not have been allowed to join at that time.
Paul Pogba is in his second stint at Manchester United having rejoined from Juventus in 2016. While he would have been allowed to join from Juventus, it is his first stint that would not have been allowed under these rules. The midfielder first joined Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2007 from Le Harve when he was just 16. Again, the signing of players under the age of 18 would not have been allowed under these rules.
Sepp van der Berg
The Dutch central defender has not seen much first team action but he was Jurgen Klopp’s only summer transfer in 2019 as they went on to secure the first Premier League title. After making the move from FC Zwolle in a £1.3m deal, he made only four appearances last season and the teenager is currently on loan at Championship side Preston North End. Under the new rules, his move would not have been permitted due to him being 17 at the time he joined Klopp’s side.
Tim Krul was an unlikely hero for Holland at the 2014 World Cup, coming on for the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica. However, under these new rules, his career would have looked very different. The goalkeeper has spent the vast majority of his career in English football, making the switch to Newcastle from Ado Den Hagg in 2005 and made a terrific debut against Palermo in the UEFA Cup the following year. Krul set the Premier League record for most saves in a single match (14 and now shared with Vito Mannone and David De Gea) as helped Newcastle shut out Spurs in 2013 However, he was 17 when left Holland for Tyneside so his move would have been prohibited.
What a find Pavel Soucek has been for David Moyes and West Ham. The midfielder has chipped in with some key goals as he helped the Hammers stay up last season and push on for challenging in the top 6 this time around. The midfielder played every minute in Slavia Prague’s Champions League campaign last season as the faced the likes of Spurs and Bayern Munich in group stages and would have secured the required 15 points just off playing all six games.
The Newcastle goalkeeper was initially brought in loan by Rafa Benitez in January 2018 and until this season has been a mainstay between the sticks on Tyneside. I wasn’t sure if he would have passed these criteria but I believe he would have passed. Playing in the Czech top division (band 4) gave him 6 points, and playing 11 out of 16 of their league games so far gave him a further 3 points and playing in all of the European minutes available to him in the Europa League qualifiers gave him an additional 5. That’s 14 points. His international exploits with Slovakia were relatively limited in the two years before joining Newcastle but having played in 29% for 28th ranked Slovakia earned him 7 points and enough to pass.
Currently out on loan at Hertha Berlin, the French midfielder arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2018; one of Unai Emery’s lower profile signings after he replaced the retiring Arsene Wenger. Guendouzi joined from Ligue 2 side Lorient and was a hit in his first season as he looked a bargain buy. However, under the new rules, he would not have qualified. The previous season, he played in only 21 of Lorient’s 38 league games as they finished 7th; accumulating only 2 points and the additional 6 points playing in a band 4 competition. With no U21 appearances until after he already signed for Arsenal, it is difficult to see how he would’ve scored more than 8 points.
The Huddersfield captain arrived at the club in 2016 and was instrumental as the Terriers gained promotion to the Premier League, staying there for two seasons. However, under these rules, it is unclear if he would have passed. The centre-back arrived from 1860 Munich having just finished 14th in Bundesliga 2. There would have been zero points available for that league finish and he would have gained points for playing almost every game (6) and a further six points for the playing in a band 4 league. Huddersfield would have had to go to the appeals panel for this one but it is unclear what ‘exceptional circumstances’ could have prevented him from getting to 15.
Said Benrahma made a name for himself with his performances in the Championship for Brentford before securing a move to West Ham but under these new rules, he would not have been able to join the Championship side. He arrived in the UK in the summer of 2018 from Nice but had spent the previous season on loan to Ligue 2 side LB Cheareacort. Being in Ligue 2 would have given him 6 points but finishing 9th would have earned him nothing and having played in just over two-thirds of the available minutes, a further 3 points. At this stage, he had no international experience and with a total of 8 points would not have been allowed to join.
The Finnish striker has been an integral player for Norwich City in the past few years since Daniel Farke bought him from Danish side Brondby for his second spell in the UK. His first was a year at Celtic singing in 2013 from Schalke in a £2.25m deal. Despite his very limited game time in the 20212/13 season at the Gelsenkirchen side, he would have qualified for a GBE in his move to Celtic courtesy of them playing in a band 1 league and their progression to the last 16 of the Champions League.
What about his move to Norwich? He joined the Canaries from Danish side Brondby and finished the 2-17/18 Superliga in 2nd place. That was good enough for Europa League Qualification. As a Band 5 competition (2 points), he would not have scored anything for their league finish or playing just under 80% of the league minutes available to him. At international level, in the qualifying period, he played in 12 out of Finals 16 games but given Finald were ranked 63rd at the time he would certainly not have qualified.
Established Premier League goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski has played for the likes of Arsenal, Swansea and currently West Ham. However, under these rules, the 35-year-olds career may well have looked very different. Arsene Wenger brought the goalkeeper to the Premier League in 2007 from Legia Warsaw. The previous season, Fabisanksi had played 70% of the available minutes to him in the Polish top-flight (a band 5 competition) gaining him 6 points but none for their third-place finish. Continentally, he played all available minutes to him in the UEFA Cup Qualifiers gaining him 5 points and a grand total of 11 points. As he was 22 when he signed for Arsenal, the FA would not have granted an appeal panel for him unless the Gunners could find ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Fabianksi found himself for a spell behind his compatriot Wojciech Szcezesny who despite being error-prone at times while he was playing for the North London side has been turning out most weeks for Serie A champions Juventus. Managers like Arsene Wenger who liked developing young talent would be hurt most by these new rules as the Polish Goalkeeper signed for Arsenal in 2006 when he was just 16 and under these rules, Premier League clubs cannot buy foreign players under the age of 18.
Jadon Sancho made the bold decision to leave Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017 at the age of 17 with the hope of gaining more first-team opportunities. It paid off immeasurably for Sancho with him being one of the biggest names in European football having had more opportunities than he ay otherwise have had at Man City. Under the protocol, the transfer of players under the age of 18 between countries is not allowed.
That £22m record-breaking fee for a 17-year-old recruit for Jude Bellingham was one of the stories of the summer window. He joined the Bundesliga side from Birmingham City with the Championship side making huge gestures after his departure such as retiring his number 22 shirt. He took inspiration from Sancho when he made the decision to leave for Dortmund but this is another transfer that would not have been allowed to happen in 2021 due to his age.
Another foreign player to make a name for himself north of the border with Celtic in recent years was Moussa Dembele. The Frenchman is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid from Lyon having enjoyed two successful seasons at Celtic Park scoring 26 in 55 appearances. However, before Celtic, he was at Fulham having joined their U18 side from PSG in 2013 at the age of 16. Under the current rules, that would not have been allowed.
Michu was the ultimate one-season wonder with Swansea. After joining in the summer of 2012, he scored 22 goals in all competitions during his first season helping them on their way to the League Cup victory. He joined in a £2m deal from La Liga 2 side Rayo Vallecano. I wondered then if this deal would have gone through as he had no international experience at this point. However, he and his teammates had just been relegated from La Liga. So, gaining 12 points each for playing 95% of his side’s games and being in La Liga, he would have qualified under these rules.
Sticking with Swansea and a club great who would not have been able to join under these rules is Angel Rangel. The right-back joined the Swans in 2007 from Segunda Division B (Spanish third tier) side Fc Terrassa FC and made over 370 appearances for the club as they progressed from League One to the Premier League. He also became captain in 2017 before he retired from playing. In the 2006/07 season, FC Terrassa finished 7th and despite playing most of their games could not have scored more than 4 points playing in a band 6 league. In other words. His happy association would not have been possible.
One of the most controversial players of the last decade, would Luis Suarez have passed through these rules when he joined Liverpool in January 2011? The short answer is yes. Suarez would have only scored around 7 points having played 66% minutes of Ajax’s games that season. However, having featured 11 of Uruguays 13 games in the previous calendar year, including their run to the semi-finals of the South Africa World Cup and their ranking within the top 10, he would have been given an ‘Auto Pass’ through his international appearances.
This was a controversial signing for Newcastle United in 2008. Signed on the final day of the deadline day, his time on Tyneside was doomed after Kevin Keegan quit over his signing. The bad news for Newcastle fans is that these new rules would not have prevented this deal from happening. Playing just under half of the available minutes for La Liga side Deportivo La Coruna as the finished 7th he would have secured at least 20 points, more than the 15 points required. However, he was a deadline day arrival so the question mark would have been if Newcastle would have made the GBE application before midday.
One of the most memorable transfer deadline days was the start of the Mansour era of Manchester City kicking in and the very dramatic late acquisition of Robinho from Real Madrid. The Brazilian was set to join either Manchester United or Manchester City that night in a deal that went to the wire. Again, this would not have been possible under the current guidance that means the club must apply for a player’s GBE before midday.
The Ballon dOr winner was once considered too weak for the Premier League by then Newcastle United Director of Football Dennis Wise before he was picked up by Spurs in 2008 in a deal from Dynamo Zagreb. One of the bright talents of the Croatian side that rocked Euro 2008, Modric would have qualified for an ‘Auto Pass’ off his international exploits alone with Croatia at that time 4th in the world rankings. In his club exploits, he would have scored only three points for playing around two-third of his sides games the previous season, an additional three points for winning the league, then 12 points for playing in the Champions League. It would never have been in doubt.
The Croatian was one of Harry Redknapp’s favourite players, signing him for three different clubs: Portsmouth, Spurs and QPR. Kranjcar arrived at Portsmouth in 2006 just after the World Cup and went on to be a part of their FA Cup winning side. Having played in all of their group stage games at the tournament and through Qualification, he would have scored points from his international exploits. Domestically, he played for Croatian side Hadjuk Split. In the 2005/06 season, he would not have scored any points for his side’s performance; finishing 5th. However, he would have scored 6 points for playing in all 32 league games and an additional 6 for playing in a band 4 tournament. Helping him across the line further was the fact he played all the available minutes in the Champions League qualifiers at the start of that season,
Avid Premier League fans will remember this name. The Italian scored a late dramatic winner in a 3-2 win over Aston Villa on his Premier League debut in April 2009, helping the red devils on their way to the title. However, under these rules, he would not have been allowed to join the red devils. The Italian joined from Lazio at the age of 16, a move which infuriated the Serie A side as they were unable to offer him a professional deal until he was 18.
The French winger was the final transfer made by Sir Bobby Robson as Newcastle United manager when he joined from Le Harve in 2004. N’Zogbia spent four and a half years at Newcastle scoring 9 goals in 128 appearances before Joe Kinnear misnamed him ‘insomnia’. He left in January 2009 to ply his trade elsewhere in the Premier League with Wigan Athletic and then Aston Villa before effectively retiring in 2016. His career would have been very different under these rules however as he was 16 when he arrived on Tyneside, initially on trial. This would not have been allowed.
Current Monaco player Fabregas has won everything. He’s won the Champions League, la Liga, The World Cup and the European Championships as well as the Premier League with two different clubs. He made his debut in English football with Arsenal at the age of 16 having left the Barcelona academy where he emerged as an exciting talent. After returning to Barcelona, he arrived at Chelsea winning the Premer League twice in his time at Stamford Bridge. However, he would not have been able to join Arsenal as a 16-year-old under these rules.
Gerard Pique was one of a couple players to leave Barcelona at a very young age in the 2000s only to return at a later date. His stint in English football was not the most successful stint of his career in terms of game time. The Barcelona defender joined Man United in 2004 but only made 12 appearances before returning in 2008 and going on to make 350 appearances winning 8 La Liga, 6 Copa Del Rey, 3 Champions League, as well as a World Cup and a European championship with Spain. However, he would never have been allowed to join Man United in 2004 as a 17-year-old under these rules.
Manchester United splashed out £12.24m to sign an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon as a replacement for David Beckham. The rest they say is history. Under these rules, the winger would have qualified. In his breakthrough season at Lisbon, Ronaldo would have scored 5 points despite only playing just more than a third of available minutes due to being classed as a youth player, an additional 10 points for playing in a band 2 league ensuring he reached the pass mark and an additional 2 points for Lisbon finishing 3rd and qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Even if he did not get the points, given the calibre of Man United, do you really see the Home Office saying no to this one?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Manchester United signed the Dutch forward in 2001 from PSV Eindhoven and was an absolute menace in front of goal, notching up 95 goals in his 4 years at Old Trafford. However, he would have counted himself lucky to have qualified under these rules. The Dutchman did not feature much for PSV in the 2000/01 season, largely due to an ACL injury and it is only the exploits of his club: winning the Eredivisie (a Band 2 league) reaching the Quarter Final of the UEFA Cup after elimination from the Champions League at the group stage and the fact PSV are in The Eredivisie meant he would have secured enough points. Even if he didn’t, the ACL injury would surely have qualified as an ‘exceptional circumstance’.
Arsenal, Manchester City, Bolton and Chelsea; Nicholas Anelka is the only player to score for four different Premier League club sides. The French forward first came to the UK in 1997 when he signed from PSG for Arsenal in 1997. He was just 17 years old though at the time and while he had a successful two years at Highbury including the 1998/99 PFA Young Player of the Year award before leaving for Real Madrid.