London (AFP) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned there could be serious consequences for the English Premier League if Britain votes to leave the European Union in a June 23 referendum.
Currently, leading footballers from throughout the European Union can take part in the cash-rich Premier League with minimal paperwork because of rules governing the free movement of labour between member states.
But should Britain leave the EU — the so-called Brexit — that may no longer be the case.
Veteran French boss Wenger, in charge of Premier League giants Arsenal since 1996, has been a pioneer for non-British managers in the top-flight of English football.
His time at Arsenal has seen several European stars playing for the north London club, with the likes of France’s Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit, as well as the Netherlands’ Dennis Bergkamp all making major contributions to the Gunners’ cause.
Speaking about what might happen were Britain to leave the 28-member bloc, Wenger told the Guardian: “It raises many questions.
“Will the European players be considered as they are now? For example, if England votes for Brexit, will the French be considered like South Americans players (who require work permits)? That would completely re-question the influx of foreign players.
“Will England go that way? If they did, that would leave the Premier League with some questions.”
However, there are those who argue that Brexit would benefit English football as it would force clubs to promote more homegrown players such as Manchester United teenage rising star Marcus Rashford.
“Rashford is only playing because of an injury crisis, but the problem with having so many EU players in the Premier League is that people like him usually wouldn’t be given a chance,” Wayne Harling, a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party told AFP last month.
Others believe that the Premier League would push the government to alter regulations to minimise the impact of a pro Brexit vote.
“I see there being a shift in the work permit rules, if indeed there is a Brexit, because the government is likely to want to maintain British clubs’ ability to sign the top European talent,” Daniel Lowen, partner at leading sports law firm Couchmans, told AFP in March.
“That may be through a watering down of the work permit rules generally or through specific exceptions to immigration rules for highly talented players.”