Replacing the EU players

The implications of the changes made to the football work permit scheme have yet to be fully appreciated.

Instead of the potential player pool being determined by the nationality of a player (EU passport) the player pool is determined by a points-based system that takes into account a player’s international status, league strength, club performance, and potential (<21 have an additional set of possible points).

Current compositions of squads

Going through current squads and working out who would have qualified for a work permit under the newly announced rules would be a Herculean task.

Even determining how players qualify currently is difficult. Many players hold dual nationality, some African players qualify to play in the UK via an EU passport. Many players who represent other nations internationally were born and raised in the UK. 

For the purposes of this exercise I have used data from the excellent fbref.com to look up:

Players who represent the nations of the UK + Ireland who will continue to be able to qualify automatically for permits.

EU+ nationals (excluding Ireland) who will not automatically qualify

Rest of the World – no automatic qualification but the vast majority of these players below the PL level are dual-nationals who have the right to live in the UK.

As we would anticipate the minutes played by “foreign” players decline quickly as we go through the leagues. 

The Premier League is a world league with many of the best international players, representing countries across the globe taking part. Of course many of the PL players would not have received permits under the new system, including all those recruited before the age of 18, but it is assumed PL clubs will find a way to maintain their squad quality and diversity.

The Championship too is diverse with almost 20% of minutes played by EU nationals.

Once we drop into League One and Two we see the vast majority of minutes played by domestic players (remembering most of the rest of the world minutes are played by UK passport holders).

The EU players playing in League One and Two would find qualifying for a work permit in the future very difficult. However, players like Hladky of Salford would still have a route into the league through the qualifying points from his previous season in Scotland so we should still expect some players and clubs to find routes into the bottom 2 leagues albeit in small numbers.

Championship the most affected league

The most impacted league will probably be the Championship. With 20% of minutes played (representing 129 players) by EU players, very few of whom would have qualified for a permit under the new rules, there are going to be a lot of clubs with future squad places to fill.

This is good news for two groups of players; U23 domestic players, and the best players in League One and Two. 

With less competition for jobs there will be more opportunity to play in higher level leagues. Perhaps more of the Premier League U23 players who often worry about dropping to League One or Two, will look towards playing at Championship level as a better career choice than waiting for a game in the Premier League.

The cream of League One and Two, also impacted by the salary cap, will be even more heavily scouted, along with Scotland and Ireland. 

Combining the number of EU players in the Championship, League One, and League Two gives you almost 200 players who will need replacing with domestic and GBE qualifying players in the next few years. 

But there are only so many known players. It reaches a point where you have seen all the players on Wyscout. We envisage “combine” trials and a constant look out for free agents becoming a more regular occurrence in professional football.

Thousands of useless reports

Every club in the Championship will have a heavy domestic scouting presence. Almost all will also have looked in at least a few foreign leagues, normally the second divisions of France and Germany and the first divisions in Denmark and the Netherlands. They will now have thousands of useless reports on players they have no hope of signing.

The problem is almost no European Leagues are accessible for Championship clubs now. It will be almost impossible to get players out of non-elite teams in Europe. They will either be too expensive or not qualify for permits.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t potentially players who could be good enough and would qualify for permits. We know the permit system has quirks that give easy entry to players in leagues no Championship clubs (apart from maybe Watford) have much experience in recruiting from.

Garish Venn Diagram 

That cross-over section in the centre are the small group of players who are affordable, good enough, and qualify for a permit. It is going to be a small group.

What interests us, and should interest every club in England, is the “Unscouted Qualifying Players”.

Donald Rumsfeld might have described these as “Unknown knowns”. We know there will be loads of players from South America who qualify for work permits but we also know we know very little about them.

Shifting resources and building up player knowledge, along with a firm understanding of the GBE system are going to be vital to the future success of international recruitment. 

Many clubs won’t have the risk appetite to shop in these markets. This is perfectly acceptable. It is very unusual for British clubs to buy directly from South America. 

For those who do want to look, perhaps there are ways risk can be minimised.

Strategies

Become experts in one territory

Covering the whole of South America is impossible with the number of scouts clubs can spare to look into options. Instead this could mean concentrating on a single market such as all qualifying players in Ecuador, or even 5 teams in Brazil and watching every game.

Think about style matches 

There are different footballing styles between leagues, and within leagues in South America. Think about how you want to play football, then find the clubs with the nearest matches to that style.

Think about player types

Do you want powerful box to box midfielders? Tricky wide players? Wing backs? Big number 9s? Different leagues have different player types. Concentrate resources as applies.

Live scouting and agents

This is where things get very difficult. There is no hopping on an easyjet to take in a few games. Video will inevitably play a larger part than before, and agents will have to be used to find out the information required to make a transfer happen. Partnerships with clubs or agents may have to be considered.

The only way to turn the “unknown knowns” into “known knowns” is to find the right strategy for your club.

Here be dragons

MRKT Insights are investing resources in finding the best South American players for UK clubs. Contact us to find out more.

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