How could Brexit affect Ligue 1?
Britain’s decision to leave the EU is a monumental geopolitical event. It will have far-reaching consequences in all areas of society and economics. Football is not immune from this.
French football, in particular, will be watching with interest. Ligue 1 and the Premier League have become intrinsically intertwined, with England being the prime destination for France’s best talent.
Could the Brexit disrupt this dynamic? It very much depends on the agreement reached between Britain and the EU in the next few years.
Will French players need a work permit?
British football clubs currently have to follow work permit rules for transfer targets from outside the EU. In order to qualify for a work permit, a player must have played a certain percentage of recent internationals for their country. Furthermore, the FIFA ranking of the player’s home country is taken into account. Players from low-ranking nations often have trouble gaining a permit.
Theoretically, Brexit would mean European players would now become subject to the same rules. In reality, it is not as simple as this.
It hinges on what kind of relationship Britain carves out with the EU. There is a strong chance that Britain will remain in the single market (European Economic Area). Countries such as Switzerland and Norway occupy this position, and they are obliged to follow EU labour laws, including freedom of movement. Therefore, under this scenario the status quo would remain.
If Britain shuns the single market altogether, then things become much more complex. Britain is then free to set its own migration laws with regard to Europe. It may well place barriers on European players, and indeed there is a clamour for this amongst some.
However, this would have a massive impact on the Premier League. The league is hugely dependent on Europeans, and increasingly on young talent nurtured in Ligue 1. Indeed 80% of France’s Euro 2016 squad was based abroad, with the majority of them playing in England.
Overall, there are more than 100 European players who would not qualify under current work permit laws. This includes the likes of N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet. Whilst it is incredibly unlikely these players would be retrospectively penalised, future talents from Ligue 1 and Europe would be curtailed.
Under this scenario, it is hard to see the Premier League keeping its competitive advantage. Ligue 1 could end up keeping more of its best players, and pose a greater challenge to English clubs.
Whether this does happen is down to the UK government, in consultation with the FA. They may decide to give footballers a dispensation as highly skilled workers. Whatever the case, Britain will remain under EU jurisdiction for at least two years. The full picture won’t emerge for some time.
What about the weakened Pound?
One consequence of Brexit that is already being felt is the weakened Pound. The devalued currency has made imports more expensive in the UK. There’s a very good chance that it could fall further in the next year, especially after Article 50 is finally activated.
The pattern that has emerged in recent years is mid-table English clubs raiding Ligue 1 for bargains – relatively cheap yet immensely talented prospects. This is evident from the likes of Andre and Jordan Ayew, Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gueye, Yohan Cabaye, Dimitri Payet, Franck Tabanou, Jordan Veretout, N’Golo Kante and Max Gradel.
Such is the financial clout of the Premier League that the currency fluctuation will not stop English clubs from picking up Ligue 1 players. They will have to pay more in order to compensate for the weak currency, but the massive television deal that comes into effect this season will mitigate the costs.
For the truly top-end players, though, the weakened pound could be more detrimental. For example, it’s thought that Manchester United would have to pay £30m more for Paul Pogba because of the weakened exchange rate.
Therefore, the big English clubs will see their massive financial advantage blunted to an extent in the near future. This could be beneficial for PSG in particular, who often compete for the same big name signings.
PSG have been linked to many high-profile Premier League players recently, such as Riyad Mahrez and Eden Hazard. The weakened Pound to Euro rate would make these transfers much more economical in practice.
Likewise, the massive wages paid by English clubs are now effectively worth less than they were before the referendum. This is another factor that could push more world-class players into relocating to the likes of PSG, and other big clubs on the continent.
The financial turbulence created by Brexit is already having some impact on transfers. At the moment, though, the well-funded English clubs seem to be absorbing the shock.
However, the true consequences will only become clear in the coming years. It will hinge on negotiations between Brussels and Westminster, as well as the input of English football administrators.
Ultimately, any moves to hinder the internationalist approach of English football would be disastrous for the Premier League. But England’s misfortune may well be Ligue 1’s gain.
European football will monitor developments with bated breath.
Sathesh Alagappan can be found on Twitter @Sathesh1992