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Post-Brexit Football Player Recruitment Requirements


Brexit has had an impact on all facets of life, not least sport. After 1 January 2021, football clubs will no longer be able to sign players freely from the EU.

Consequently, the FA, the Premier League and EFL prepared a joint proposal, the “Governing Body Endorsement” proposal, which was submitted to the UK Government last month. In terms of this proposal, a club must obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (“GBE”) from the FA before a player is permitted to play for the club. The Home Office has now approved this proposal, which will be implemented in the January 2021 transfer window.

The FA has stated on its website that “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.

The GBE system will provide the framework for Premier League and EFL clubs to sign overseas players from the EU, post-Brexit. This position is the same for other non-EU overseas players without the right to work in the UK.

In order for such a player to play for a UK club they must have obtained a GBE, been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship by that club, and have secured leave to remain in terms of the UK’s new immigration system. (The GBE recruitment requirements discussed in this article operate in conjunction with the UK’s new immigration system, although an analysis of such immigration system is beyond the scope of this article.)

The GBE recruitment requirements for Men’s Players (“Men’s requirements”) operates on a points-based system in terms of which a player will need to obtain at least 15 points to be granted a GBE, and includes tables setting out what points are granted in specific circumstances.

Players can obtain points for:

  • Senior and youth international appearances;
  • Quality of the selling club, based on the league the selling club is in, its position in that league and how far it has progressed in continental competitions; and
  • Club appearances, based on the number of minutes the player played in the domestic league and continental competitions.

In practice, players who play in one of Europe’s top five leagues (English Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1) will easily achieve more than the required 15 points.

There is an exception to the 15 points requirement where a player’s international appearances meet the requirements to be eligible for an “Auto Pass”. Internationally capped players who play for a nation inside the top 50 of FIFA’s world rankings for the majority of their international career will be eligible for such an “Auto Pass”.

Where a player has accumulated at least 15 points they will earn a GBE automatically. However, players who achieves between 10 and 14 points can still be considered for a GBE by an Exceptions Panel if:

  • in the case of non-youth players (i.e. players aged 21 and over), the club can evidence that exceptional circumstances prevented the player from achieving 15 points.
  • in the case of youth players, the youth player achieved between 10 and 14 points based on the youth criteria.

It must be highlighted that such Exceptions Panel will be removed after the January 2021 transfer window.

A further specific provision for youth players contained in the Men’s requirements is that, where a youth player fails to achieve the required 15 points, they can still be considered for a GBE if they achieve at least 15 points based on the youth criteria and it is decided that the player is of sufficient quality to be awarded a GBE.

The Women’s game has also had their “Governing Body Endorsement” proposal approved by the Home Office, which will also be implemented in the January 2021 transfer window. The GBE recruitment requirements for Women’s Players (“Women’s requirements”) provides for a similar point-based system as the one mentioned above. The two differences from the Men’s requirements are that there is no youth option and players cannot obtain points based on progression in continental competitions.

It is planned that the Men’s requirements and Women’s requirements will be reviewed following the January 2021 transfer window, and it will be interesting to see what the response is from clubs. Hopefully, the Premier League, EFL and the FA have found a way to achieve their joint objectives and avoid Brexit damaging English Football.

Commentary by Bianca Balmelli


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