Football On Lockdown: Brexit and COVID-19’s effect on the January Transfer Window

February 20, 2021

3 min read

Sign up to our mailing list! 👇

What's going on here?

The effects of Brexit and COVID-19 have suppressed transfer window activity, with expenditure falling to a mere £70m compared to the £230m spent last January

What does this mean?

It appears the beautiful game has not been able to escape the grasps of covid-19 and Brexit. Since the 1st of January all EU citizens, including footballers, will need a visa and a work permit to work in the UK. These permits (GBE’s) will be granted to players who possess “impressive CV’s”, determined by a points-based system created by the Football Association. Players who achieve 15 points are free to play ball! Points are awarded for a variety of factors, including club and national appearances. National ranking also plays an important role. For instance, players within FIFA’s top 50 ranked countries who have played 70% of national matches will automatically receive a GBE. The system has clearly been designed to continue to enable top European talent to play in the UK, retaining the explosive style of football associated with the Premier League. 

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has placed an even greater strain on club finances. A recent report from Deloitte has revealed the top 20 revenue generating clubs will miss out on over £1.8bn in the 2020/2021 season. This lost revenue has forced clubs to re-evaluate potential signings, resulting in the reduced transfer window activity seen this January. However, for English teams in particular, clubs now face a “double whammy” of COVID-19 and increased Brexit-related restrictions, further dampening transfer trade.

What's the big picture effect?

Whilst the above data portrays a fairly bleak future for English football, many scouts and talent specialists are optimistic. The complex GBE points system, combined with restrictions limiting clubs to six foreign players per campaign, will enable scouts to focus on domestic talent. As such, we could be seeing more home-grown players like Ethan Ampadu and Billy Gilmour making regular appearances on our TV screens. Admittedly, this development could be worrying for Championship clubs, who may have their best players targeted and siphoned off by premiership teams. This would create an even greater disparity between the English leagues, harming the overall quality of English football. 

The introduction of a more complex GBE system will be welcomed news for sports lawyers. Sports-focused firms like Bird & Bird will likely be employed to help settle GBE disputes with the FA. However, law firms may also be involved in a different way. January’s lower transfer activity could be a worrying symptom of a more long-term financial illness affecting football. French team Lille OSC “are up to their eyeballs in debt”, and have been hurt by the collapse of the Mediapro TV deal. A similar breakdown in 2002 caused 12 English clubs to enter administration when the ITV Digital agreement fell through. As a result, law firms may be drafted in the coming months and years to help insolvent clubs restructure and re-build back stronger

Like many other sectors, the effects of Brexit and COVID-19 have severely damaged the football industry. English clubs will now have to fend off an attack on both fronts, as teams fight to navigate increased Brexit-related restrictions and the financial destruction caused by COVID-19. This has ultimately drained club resources, resulting in lower transfer activity this January. In this sense, Brexit has done what Brexit does. Created chaos and confusion, whilst adding unnecessary paperwork to the beautiful game. Nonetheless, the GBE system does have its benefits, and hopefully, we will start to see an increase in domestic talent over the coming years.

Report written by Luke Cuthbert

Share this now!

Check out our recent reports!