Could Brexit Drastically Change Irish Football? Yes.
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
On Monday, October 28th, the United Kingdom extended it's Brexit deadline to Jan. 31st, 2020. While the ripple effects of Brexit will be felt across Europe, no country more will be more affected than Ireland. The country's economy and workforce has been intertwined with the United Kingdom for more than a century. We spoke with Off The Ball and League of Ireland Weekly presenter Johnny Ward about how Brexit might impact Irish football.
Why it matters: When the UK leaves European, players under the age of 18 will not be able to transfer to the UK. Previously, minors were allowed to transfer between the UK and Ireland as they were both part of European Union.
Per FIFA: “international transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18”. The three exceptions are players moving with their parents for reasons not related to football, players who live close to a border and join a nearby club on the other side of that border and players aged between 16 and 18 who move within the European Union or European Economic Area (EEA). The latter exception is the most common.
The Common Travel Area between the two countries does not impact this. This is governed by FIFA as it legislates cross-border transfers.
The numbers: In 2017-2018 118 Irish players represented teams in the Premier League and EFL.
Typical pathway before Brexit: Player plays at a local club team. He then progresses to a school team like St.Kevin's or Belvedere. Typically, he would then get scouted by an English team and move there at the age of 16.
Note: It is increasingly common for players to go straight into a League of Ireland youth team from their local team.
Likely pathway after Brexit: Player plays at a local club team. He then progresses to a school team like St.Kevin's or Belvedere. He then goes to a League of Ireland club. At 18, he potentially moves to England.
Pros: From the Irish youth player perspective, here are some potential benefits.
Don't have to travel and play in England. There won't be homesickness and difficulty adjusting to a new culture. Ward says this is one of the major reasons young Irish players don't succeed in Europe.
Better schooling. Several League of Ireland teams have relationships with schools in the area.
"By all accounts, the the commitment to the education side of things in Britain is little more than tokenism. I spoke to a former Newcastle United trainee recently who told me that it was basically just ticking boxes." - Johnny Ward, Off The Ball
Playing with men. Playing in League of Ireland means playing with men, which is better than playing in U-23s which has a bad reputation in England.
Cons: From the Irish youth player perspective, here are some of the potential negatives of not being able to play in England.
Level of Coaching. The level of coaching in England is superior and there are more support staff amongst bigger clubs to aid the development of young players. The FAI has tried to address this by implementing a Coach Education Pathway in 2017.
Track record of development. League of Ireland clubs have no track record of producing talent before this decade. They're still quite new to producing players of international pedigree. Academies around England have been producing international players for decades.
Resources and facilities. League of Ireland teams don't have the money or resources to pay for academies like top clubs in the Championship and Premier League clubs. Dozens of clubs in England spend millions annually on the academy.
My Conclusion: This could have major impacts on the League of Ireland. The top talent will stay in the country until the age of 18 and will improve the League of Ireland. The top talent will still move to the UK but you have to imagine there will be a decline of Irish players in the EFL and Premier League.