Sunday 24 March 2019

Brexit upheaval puts Irish clubs on UK radar

Manchester City-bound Gavin Bazunu
Manchester City-bound Gavin Bazunu

John Fallon

A leading Premier League academy director has warned Brexit could send the cost of the best English talent "through the roof" and it may result in League of Ireland clubs being used as satellite academies.

Some leading top-flight English and Scottish clubs are understood to have begun actively planning how to counteract the expected end of free movement by European players below the age of 18.

A feasible option is looking into buying smaller European clubs, setting up remote academies or organising education programmes to develop young players until they could be legally transferred to the United Kingdom.

As revealed last week, SPL champions Celtic, through their Irish chairman Dermot Desmond, have entered exploratory talks with Shamrock Rovers about purchasing a stake.

Although alliances between UK and Irish clubs, such as Shelbourne's with Manchester United and the accord between Arsenal and the Dublin District Schoolboys League (DDSL), have faded away, political upheaval may trigger a new dawn.

The difference in these cases, however, is that foreign clubs may become shareholders in League of Ireland clubs, sparking a potential financial windfall.

The strict footballing independence of Home Nations countries means doubts surround whether U-18s could be transferred between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Under current regulations, clubs in the European Economic Area - including Ireland - can transfer players between the ages of 16 and 18.

This arrangement has allowed many high-profile players to join English clubs at a young age, including Cesc Fabregas, Paul Pogba and Hector Bellerin.

It's also enabled the most promising of the Irish youngsters to join English clubs.

For example, in September Rovers agreed to sell their 16-year-old goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu to Manchester City. Under the package, which sees the Dubliner move full-time once he completes his Leaving Certificate in June, the Hoops will pocket €500,000.

Depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, British clubs could fall out of that arrangement, either this March with a no-deal Brexit, or by January 2021 following a transition period.

That would stop the flow of players under the age of 18 from the Republic of Ireland moving to England, while European clubs would have an additional two years to sign players targeted by the Premier League.

Young talent would also be prevented from leaving a British club before 18, putting an end to moves such as the one made by Jadon Sancho, who left Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017, aged 17.

Fulham academy director Huw Jennings believes the implications would represent the biggest transformation since the FA's introduction of the Elite Players' Performance Plan eight years ago.

"I am concerned about the additional premium that would then be applied on British talent," said Jennings.

"There will be those clubs who argue there is not sufficient training compensation, and I understand that, but it's more to do with the best talent being so widely sought after that the price gets driven through the roof. If you are not careful, what you are ending up with here is a transfer race."

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