U.K. Soccer Clubs Oppose Plan for Fewer Overseas Players

(Bloomberg) -- England’s top soccer clubs are seeking to protect their access to foreign talent in the sport’s version of the Brexit battle that’s thrown the country into political chaos.

Premier League teams told Football Association officials that at this stage they don’t plan to reduce the number of overseas players they sign after Brexit, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. They’re concerned that doing so could hurt their ability to compete in European competitions and reduce the league’s attractiveness to television broadcasters, the people said, asking not to be identified as they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The comments were made during a meeting on Thursday with Martin Glenn, chief executive of the FA, who proposed cutting the maximum number of overseas players in a team’s 25-strong squad from 17 to 12.

Homegrown players currently account for about 30 percent of playing minutes in England’s top tier, a smaller proportion than in rival European leagues, and soccer’s governing body wants to increase that to nurture the England team.

The perennial clash between the Premier League and FA over fostering talent for the national team long predates Brexit, but with Britain edging closer to the EU exit door officials running the country’s most popular game are increasingly keen to find a compromise. Taking back control of who can come and work in the U.K. is a cornerstone of the Brexit debate and the focus is how that should include the import of soccer talent.

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Post Brexit, the Premier League wants carte blanche to import players equally from anywhere in the world. Currently, clubs can sign players from within the European Union but need visas for those from elsewhere. 

“Giving the clubs the freedom to sign who they want, regardless of experience and pedigree, would be completely out of line with the rest of the country’s immigration process,” said Andrew Osborne, immigration specialist at law firm Lewis Silkin. “No other industry gets that leeway.”

The agreement Prime Minister Theresa May has struck with the EU keeps Britain tied to the common market’s trading rules, though envisages greater control over immigration. While it’s anything but certain her deal will make it through the U.K. Parliament, May reiterated her plan to see Brexit through as a string of ministers walked out of her government on Thursday.

The Premier League and the FA declined to comment on the details of the meeting. The government has asked the sport’s top two bodies to come up with proposals to change the system of issuing visas to overseas players after the U.K. leaves the EU.

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