How might new transfer rules affect Blues?

Last week the FA announced a new post-Brexit transfer system for non-UK players that comes into effect from January 1st 2021 with all transfers from outside the UK subject to work permits that will be allocated using a points-based system. Part of the rationale for this is to encourage clubs to develop more home-grown talent. The question is what impact is this likely to have on Blues?

The new rules, which can be found on the FA website, prevent transfers of non-UK under 18 players, limit the number of 18-21 year-old non-UK players (termed youth players) a club can sign and describe a point-based system for controlling the signing of non-UK players.  In order to get a work permit a non-UK player must obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) – GBEs are awarded on a complex points-based system and a player must achieve at least 15 points to be awarded a GBE. There is an appeals process if a player just misses out but this is designed for exceptional circumstances only.

A player is awarded points in three different categories based on his appearances for his club and country over the last 1-2 years before the proposed sale and these are then added up to produce a total which is then compared to the 15-point threshold. The three categories are broadly:

    1. Player’s International Appearances over the last two years in competitive internationals – with points awarded being dependent on the percentage of competitive internationals the player played in and the FIFA ranking of the player’s country. Regular players for countries ranked in FIFA’s top 50 automatically qualify for a GBE
    2. Player’s appearances for his club in continent wide competitions over the last year (e.g. Champions League or Europa League) – with additional points available depending on how far their club progresses
    3. Player’s appearances for his club in the domestic league – with additional points available depending on the strength of the league and the performance of the club.

It should be noted that if a player is out on loan his points tally is linked to the standing of the league his loan team is in, not the league his parent club or selling club is in.

If a youth player fails to make the requisite 15 points there are also a further set of criteria where a youth player can score additional points – for instance if he has played youth international football rather than senior international football over the last two years – which can then be considered by an independent panel.

To try and gauge the impact these new transfer rules might have on Blues it’s instructive to look at how it would have affected recent EU players Blues have bought.

A favourite hunting ground for Blues for transfers has been the Spanish Second Division or Segunda División with Sanchez and Bela, amongst others, being signed from clubs who played in this division. The new transfer rules categorise leagues into 6 bands with more points being awarded for the higher bands. The top band – Band 1 – includes the English Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga amongst others. The next band – Band 2 – incorporates the Portuguese Primeira Liga, Eredivisie and, perhaps surprisingly, the Championship amongst others. The Segunda División does not rank until Band 4 and so there are less points on offer meaning (as far as we can tell) neither Sanchez or Bela would have received 15 points, despite both playing the majority of games for their side in the last season they played before their transfer.

For players over 21 in the Segunda División the only way to meet the threshold appears to be either for your team to top that league at the end of the season (which gains the player extra points) or to be an international player. Therefore, this avenue for possible future transfers seems significantly limited.

Two other recent transfers – San José and Prieto – came from the top division of Spain, La Liga. Being from a Band 1 rated league these players can earn greater points – although this is tempered by the fact that they weren’t regulars in their La Liga teams – Prieto not playing in the league at all last season, just the Copa del Rey domestically, and San José playing in only 9 out of 38 La Liga games. It is somewhat surprising then that it appears that Prieto is the only one of the two who would have qualified for a GBE. This is due to the fact that Espanyol (despite finishing bottom of La Liga and being relegated at the end of the season) were in the Europa League last year and Prieto’s three appearances for them in that competition would have gained him enough points alongside his domestic points to help him reach the threshold – which perhaps illustrates the idiosyncrasies of the proposed system. For La Liga players who aren’t internationals or whose clubs aren’t in or don’t qualify for European competition they would need to play at least 30% of games to reach the requisite 15 points.

Finally, turning to our most recent signing Alen Halilović – would he have qualified for a GBE? He did have an international appearance in the last two years but, unfortunately, this was in a friendly game so he receives no points for that. Although he was an AC Milan player he didn’t play for them in 2019-20 instead being loaned out to Heerenveen in the Eredivisie where he played 65% of games. The Eredivisie is categorised as a Band 2 league and this would have been enough to earn him a GBE.

So, what are pointers for Blues from the new transfer rules? Firstly, it looks like the Segunda División is not going to be a fruitful hunting ground for players in the future with only a small fraction of players in that league likely to be eligible for transfers to UK clubs based on the relatively low banding of that league in the new rules. The same is true of any of the other Tier 2 leagues in Europe or beyond. Secondly players from the higher banded leagues must have played reasonably often (at least 30% of games) to be eligible for a GBE if they are not regular internationals or involved in European competition. It is likely that such players will be of good quality and in demand – thereby pushing prices up.

Arguably the impact of these changes puts more pressure on UK clubs to ensure they develop their own talent streams. Following the recent announcements by Blues around restructuring the Academy and player recruitment policy it re-emphasizes the need to get this right in order to strengthen the club’s ability to recruit and develop quality players.

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