A lot has been said in recent weeks about the potential after effects of a BREXIT vote. Most of it has been complete and total b&ll&cks. Occasionally, some elements of fact, or potential fact, have come out. But in the main, hot air and self-interest have prevailed.
What, I hear you ask, has that first paragraph got to do with the price of eggs, sorry, football?
A number of years ago, Middlesbrough agreed to bring Juninho back to the Riverside for the third time. On first application, the work permit required for non-EU players was refused as he had not played sufficient full international matches in a defined period of time to qualify. The permit was subsequently granted on appeal given the previously proven talent in the Premier League of a player who had won a world cup with Brazil.
Anyone plying their trade in the European game is not subject to the same criteria of non-EU players. Freedom of labour movement has ensured that. So the prospect of a UK split from the rest of Europe could have profound effects on the English game.
At this point, as all Scottish fans scream ‘what about north of the border?’, the reason the concentration is on England is that the amount of money involved in the EPL, and the number of foreign players from all parts of the globe playing at the very top level for what are some of the biggest clubs in the world let alone the country, make the possible effects that much greater.
No attempt is to be made to analyse the squads of individual teams. Apart from the length of the resulting article, the waning interest would send the reader (and author) to sleep. Yet the possible changes that would result from players having to prove their worth as opposed to simply their country of birth are profound and wide-ranging.
Imagine for a moment that it is the 1970’s. The players making up the squads of almost every top tier team in England come from the home nations. English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish (both sides of the border) fill the team sheets week in – week out. There are others who are dotted around the league, both from Europe and occasionally beyond although they demand shock headlines when they sign. The vast majority of players in England, quite possibly well over 90%, were from the UK and Eire.
Now, if memory serves, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s wasn’t too unsuccessful for First Division clubs in European competition. 1977-1982 saw an unprecedented period of domination in the European Cup (for younger readers, read the Champions League but with league champions playing, not some club who managed to scrape third or fourth). UEFA and Cup Winners Cups also regularly found their way across the channel and with a 1984 European Cup win for Liverpool, the potential ongoing scenario of English club after English club perpetually winning in Europe was very real. Then came Heysel.
In light of the recent truth coming out surrounding Hillsborough, it is always worth noting that to this day the only fan seen apparently waving a gun, on the pitch, was not in a Liverpool shirt but a Juventus one. Cue reprisals; cue a ban from European competition; cue a period of inward reflection for the English game. Cue the Premier League.
Since the early nineties, the EPL attracted a range of footballers from across the globe. Some were good, a few were great, but a lot were simply average and nothing better or worse than could be found had the clubs in question decided to stick with their local scouting policies and invest in their own academies bringing on domestic talent. Transfer fees soared as did wages. Suddenly, English football was the place to be. English clubs became successful again in Europe although not to any degree close to that of twenty years ago. The England national team flattered to deceive with more than one generation failing to live up to their own potential and hype. Players from England and the rest of the UK became minorities in starting elevens dominated by names that would win most fans any game of Scrabble.