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Confusion over whether new post-Brexit transfer rules will apply to young Irish players

Some English clubs have been carrying on as normal, but a senior English football source insists potentially transformative rules will apply to Ireland.

Flags fly outside of FAI HQ in Abbottstown.
Flags fly outside of FAI HQ in Abbottstown.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE ENGLISH FA, Premier League and English Football League (EFL) today announced new, post-Brexit rules around transfers taking effect from 1 January, though there is confusion as to whether they apply to young Irish footballers. 

Under the new rules, English clubs will not be allowed to sign players from the European Union until the player turns 18, as is the case under Fifa rules.

Clubs within the EU can sign players from other EU countries the age of 16. 

A senior EFL source told The42 there is no exemption for Irish players, and so players must wait until 18 if they wish to transfer to a English club. 

Some clubs, however, have been proceeding as if it were business as usual and can continue signing Irish players from the age of 16.

One Irish club source told The42 there has been a “scramble” among English clubs in recent days to establish interest in signing young Irish players. The same club were contacted by seven English clubs across the last four days, all of whom said they were able to continue signing Irish players from the age of 16.

One of these clubs cited the Common Travel Area as the basis for the exemption. 

The Common Travel Area (CTA) is an agreement between the Irish and British governments that pre-dates the European Union, and is thus not dependent on it. The CTA allows for the free movement of people between Ireland and Britain, and enshrines rights related to employment, healthcare, and education.

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In 2019, the Irish and British governments agreed to protect the CTA regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations. The issue is likely to ultimately come down to whether the CTA supersedes the Fifa transfer rules applicable to the rest of the world. 

An FA spokesperson told The42 this evening they are awaiting confirmation from Fifa on the issue.

Elsewhere, English clubs will be limited to signing a maximum of six players per season aged 21 or under from overseas under the new rules, which has been introduced in a bid to give more opportunities to domestic talent.

Senior players moving to the UK, meanwhile, will have to be granted a work permit to complete their transfer. Each transfer will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, on a points system.

Points are scored based on senior and youth international appearances, the quality of the selling club (based on the league they are in, league position and progression in continental competition) and club appearances (based on domestic league and continental competition minutes.)

These work permit requirements will not apply to Irish players, however, with the FA’s rules stating these apply only to a player “who is not a citizen of the United Kingdom or Ireland.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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