The Football Association and Premier League were on a collision course over Brexit last night after Greg Clarke warned he would oppose a blanket exemption for top-flight footballers from immigration curbs on European Union nationals.
The FA chairman drew a line in the sand after two of the country’s most influential club owners, West Ham United’s David Gold and Stoke City’s Peter Coates, urged the Government to safeguard their ability to sign and field players from within the EU when the country quits the union.
Gold and Coates spoke out 24 hours after the Prime Minister formally triggered Article 50, notifying the EU of Britain’s intention to end its 40-year membership.
The Chancellor indicated last year that highly-skilled, highly-paid EU workers would be exempt from post-Brexit immigration controls.
But Clarke made it clear he wanted Britain’s departure from the union to reduce the number of “journeyman international players” in England.
Dozens of top European stars playing in the Premier League – including Manchester United’s Juan Mata and Ander Herrera – would not currently qualify for post-Brexit work permits under rules governing visas for non-EU foreign players.
That follows the introduction a new system two years ago for assessing the eligibility of foreign players by the FA – which wants more England-qualified starters in the top flight – with the support of the Home Office.
Clarke said: “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 and are hopefully the future of the English national game and the international game and can’t get in the first team.
“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 and I don’t just mean the international game, I mean getting young English players into the first team.
“If Manchester City or United want to buy Neymar or someone like that then bring it on, that’s wonderful. We want to see wonderful Premier League football and competitive sides, that’s good for the game.
“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.”
Insisting he was not looking for a fight with the Premier League, he added: “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 works for the 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’.
“How that comes about over the next two years, we will argue our position, the Premier League will argue their position and the Government will listen to both and I suspect a sensible compromise will be reached.”
New measures to boost the number of youngsters in match-day squads were announced by the EFL on Thursday after it approved an increase in home-grown players on team sheets from six to seven from next season.
An agreement was also reached for at least one club-developed player to be named on each team sheet for any EFL league game from the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “I hope this latest commitment made by our clubs is further evidence of the EFL taking the initiative in looking for practical and effective measures that can be introduced to help managers and coaches in the ongoing development of young players.
“It is imperative that we provide young players not only with a platform, but also with the belief that opportunities will be made available to progress from youth to senior football. I am confident that this decision will have a positive and lasting impact on the future of football in this country.”