One aspect of the Euro debate that has been missed out is what happens to football should this country vote to leave the European Union. Of course this is not as important as to whether EU migrants can claim benefits from the moment they arrive in this country but it would be wrong to ignore the impact of a Brexit vote on the national game. It could lead to English clubs finding it difficult to buy overseas players, or at least forced to pay a lot more and make the Premier League, whose emergence as the most powerful league in the world has matched the closer integration of EU nations, vulnerable to challenge from some of its European rivals.
The fact is that in the last 20 years decisions by the European Court and the EU has left such deep marks on English football that no amount of dinners by David Cameron in Brussels will erase them. The deepest cut was inflicted by the Bosman ruling, handed down almost exactly twenty years ago when Jean-Marc Bosman, a journey man footballer, was prevented by his Belgium club from transferring to a French club when he came to the end of his contract. He went to the European court which ruled that the club could not behave like a modern slaver owner. This has led to the situation where clubs dread letting their top players go into the final year of their contract because they know once the contract ends they cannot hold on to them. And in the case of international transfers the player can start looking for a new club six months before his contract ends.
Bosman also inflicted huge collateral damage on the rules that governed European club competitions in particular the 3+2 rule for clubs playing in Europe. Meant to encourage home grown talent this specified that in European cup competitions a club could field three foreign players and two others not eligible to play for their national team but provided the two were home grown. So Ryan Giggs, who qualified for Wales not England, could play as a plus 2 for Manchester United as he had been groomed at Old Trafford. The result was Alex Ferguson, then United manager, could never field his best team in Europe and it was only after the 3+2 rule went that Ferguson won the Champions League, Europe’s greatest club prize. There have been other EU changes to football including the transfer window, which means players cannot be bought and sold throughout the season but only at particular times. English football hates it but has had to accept it.
Whatever the results from Cameron’s effort to roll back the influence of the European Court and the EU, they will make no difference to the existing football regulations. However a no vote will mean that with Britain no longer part of the free movement of labour, it will not be easy to buy players from a European club. These players will then have to fulfil the fairly onerous rules which at present apply to players playing outside the EU. Now if Lionel Messi wants to play in this country that will not be a problem, but emerging talent from European clubs, in particular players of African origin, will find it very difficult. It will also make it difficult to buy players from the less fancied European countries who are often cheaper than comparable English talent but prove a better buy. Peter Ridsdale, executive chairman of Preston North End, believes that this will make players more eager to move to a top Spanish, German, Italian or French club rather than an English club. Time will tell whether Ridsdale proves right but the fact that in all the talk going on about how Britain will be affected by a no vote, nothing has been mentioned about the impact on English football seems astonishing.