The Premier League are prepared to accept limits on non-homegrown young players are introduced as the league and the Football Association attempt to agree a final position on new work permit rules to present to the government by the end of next week.
The Premier League and Football Association have been in dispute for four years after work permit rules for overseas players after Brexit, which will be enacted after the transition agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union expires at the end of the year. Essentially, the dispute has revolved around how much access to foreign players Premier League clubs will have, with the FA believing Brexit presents an opportunity to increase home-grown representation in the Premier League.
There remains a real risk that the two parties will miss the Home Office’s deadline, with FA chairman Greg Clarke telling clubs that in his view the current system for non-European players could apply to all players unless the Premier League can agree with the FA. The Premier League are prepared to introduce two significant safeguards to alleviate the FA’s concerns about young homegrown players and pave the wave for a deal.
Currently, Premier League clubs can select an unlimited number of Under-21 players in the league, in addition to those in their 25-man squads. But the Premier League and FA are understood to be in discussions about creating a limit for non-homegrown U-21 players. This will effectively stop clubs stockpiling young overseas players, which may prevent young English talent getting opportunities. Additionally, it has been proposed that there will be a cap on the number of overseas U-21 players that clubs may sign in any transfer window, which would prevent young English talent from being usurped.
In another significant development, the Premier League is happy to review the work permit rules with the FA and government after every transfer window, meaning that interventions could be targeted if the number of minutes played by England-qualified players dropped. The Premier League are pointing to recent improvements in the quality of domestic talent, with 35% of players starting games last year England-qualified, a rise of over 5% on the 2018/19 season.
The Premier League hopes that these two steps mean that the FA will be content to keep the number of home-grown players per 25-man squad to eight per club. The FA has advocated for the number of home-grown players rising to 12, though that now seems highly unlikely.
The new work permit rules are set to see the points-based eligibility system used for foreign players revamped and based predominantly around a player's club rather than their international record. The current system makes it hard to sign players who are not regulars for international teams in the top 50 of the world rankings, leading Crystal Palace to be unable to sign Canadian Alphonso Davies, who recently lifted the Champions League with Bayern Munich, in 2016. Arsenal were also famously unable to sign a young Yaya Toure.
The new work permit rules - if they can be agreed - will make it more difficult for Premier League teams to sign players from Europe, which will be a significant blow to clubs.
But it is hoped that the new rules will include provisions that allow teams to sign leading young players who may not have yet played a significant amount of first team football. The Premier League is proposing that the work permit eligibility criteria allows young players who aren’t first team regulars to accrue points - for instance, based on the quality of their club, their number of recent appearances for youth teams, or whether they have made the first team squad. It is hoped that such rules can ensure teams are still able to sign the best talent in Europe and maintain the quality of the league.
It is understood that the Premier League are keen to avoid a system that awards points partly based on a player’s transfer fee, fearing that this would stop smaller clubs benefiting from their scouting networks. Research has shown that a majority of foreign players signed in Premier League history, including N’Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez when they first joined the league, would not have received work permits had they been subject to the same points-based rules as non-European players - the system that Clark has threatened clubs with.
Even under the FA’s proposed points system, the Premier League believe that around 40 per cent of non-homegrown players playing in the league today would not have been eligible to be signed. The Premier League argues that these restrictions are excessive, and risk diluting the quality of the league.
With all overseas players now being treated in the same way for work permit purposes, the new rules are set to make it easier for clubs to sign players from outside Europe. Premier League clubs hope that easier access to talent in areas like South America and Africa will go some way to compensating for it becoming harder to sign European players.