Belfast Telegraph

Greg Clarke hoping football can find 'common ground' after Brexit

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke hopes Brexit will end the Premier League's habit of playing safe with "journeymen" foreigners and open up more chances for English talent.

With the UK set to leave the European Union in March 2019, players with EU passports will no longer be able to count on the right to play here and clubs may have to radically change their recruitment policies.

Several Premier League club chairmen have recently voiced their fears that post-Brexit restrictions on foreign players could hurt the competition's overall quality and global appeal but Clarke is more optimistic about the potential impact, particularly for the national side.

Speaking at this week's UEFA Congress in Helsinki, Clarke said: "Look, if you own a Premier League club why wouldn't you to want to fish from the global pool?

"What we have to do is find a sensible compromise that respects the need of the Premier League to bring in world-class players - they are the best league in the world and we don't want to do anything to undermine that.

"What we want to do is have a few less journeyman international players - there has to be sensible centre ground where world-class players are welcomed in the Premier League but not journeymen who are displacing the young English talent coming through.

"It's about sitting down with the government and the Premier League and mapping out a compromise that people can live with. We now have an opportunity to see what's right for the game.

"If they are displaced because you have a world-class player - if Manchester City or United want to buy Neymar or someone like that - then bring it on, that's wonderful.

"It's the next tier down, the international players who may be only as good as the talent coming through but are proven and easy to pick. I want to make sure if you are going to displace a young English player it's by a world-class player and not an average player."

Without the freedom of movement guaranteed by EU membership, non-UK European players may find themselves subject to the same work-permit rules that apply to players from the rest of the world.

These Home Office rules, which were revised last year after lobbying by the FA to make it harder for players from mediocre footballing nations to work here, are meant to strike a balance between protecting domestic jobs and attracting highly-skilled workers from abroad, and they apply to professional sport in the same way they do for any other economic activity.

Footballers from nations ranked in FIFA's top 50 are given work permits if they have played a minimum number of games for their countries over the last two years. This number is on a sliding scale, based on their nation's ranking, although exceptions are made for emerging talent, injuries and exceptional players on poor sides.

With so much still unknown about the UK's future relationship with the EU, Clarke was reluctant to speculate on how European players will be treated in two years' time but said it was in everybody's interest to find some common ground.

"Brighter people than me have failed to forecast what Brexit will look like in two years' time," the former Leicester City and English Football League chairman said.

"What I will say is we have no intention of undermining the wonderful club football that is the Premier League.

"What we want to do is find a sensible way round that works for a post-Brexit Britain, that works for employment law and the government, and works for the Premier League and FA.

"For that compromise to work it will be somewhere in the middle. It won't be an open-door policy, it won't be no foreigners, it will be 'let's let world-class Premier League teams bring in world-class players but not average international players'."

A BBC study last year found that more than 300 non-British EU players in the top two divisions in England and the Scottish Premier League would fail to meet existing work-permit rules.

Nobody is suggesting Premier League leaders Chelsea have any "average international players" but the challenge young English players face at clubs of that stature is clear when you consider Gary Cahill is the only Englishman in the first XI, although there were 18 Chelsea players in England's age-group squads during the last international break.

When asked recently by Press Association Sport for his view on what may happen once the UK has left the EU, Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola said: " The work and the rules have to be the same for everybody.

"Why would football be exceptional to lawyers or architects who are not able to work?"

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