On Thursday (23 June 2016) a referendum was held to determine whether or not the United Kingdom would continue to be a member of the European Union.
By early Friday morning, the votes had been counted and the result was declared: the UK’s voting public had decided, by virtue of a 52% majority, to leave the EU.
The implications are various and wide-reaching — with the negotiation of new trade deals and guidelines around immigration being the key, emotive issues. Football too, will be affected.
Just exactly how much the beautiful game will be impacted remains to be seen, and any changes will be far from immediate. First, the UK government has to agree to uphold the decision of the public, before then informing the EU and negotiating an exit; most experts seem to agree that this could take up to two years.
In spite of this, there are some new realities that seem certain to have an effect on British football, and Manchester United will feel it as much as any club — if not more.
The most immediate effect felt in the wake of the referendum result, was a drop in value of pound sterling. This will mean that clubs negotiating to purchase players from the continent will find they will now have to stump up more cash to bridge the value gap, which opened up on Friday, between the pound and the euro.
So if United are serious about their pursuits of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba, the valuation that each player’s club has of them may not have shifted in terms of euros, but will have now risen when converted to pounds.
When the time comes that the UK’s departure is finalised, United will find it much more difficult to acquire young players from the continent. FIFA’s article 19 restricts the movement of players under the age of 18, but the EU allows for players to move freely between its member nations from the age of 16.
Under the potential post-EU laws, past deals that have brought the likes of Adnan Januaj and Pogba to Old Trafford, would be far more difficult to pull off.
Then there is the matter of work permits. As it stands, players holding a passport from an EU country are not required to obtain a work permit to move to a British club. But after the UK’s exit, that may no longer be the case and any non-UK player would need to apply for a work permit before being able to be employed in the UK.
As The Independant pointed out in their report on how Brexit could affect football: "Non-EU citizens . . . usually have to meet Home Office registration criteria. Football players in particular have to play a specific number of matches for their national sides in order to move to the Premier League."
To put in in United terms, this would likely have meant that Anthony Martial and David de Gea’s moves, among others, would almost certainly have been impossible.
This would also mean that the Premier League as a whole will suffer as, being the richest league in the world, its clubs’ ability to bring in the best young talent around will be hampered, which in turn could lead to a loss of global appeal: TV revenue could ultimately slump.
If any side stands to benefit however, it is the home nations national teams, and England in particular. If there is an increased difficulty in signing foreign youngsters, young British players will find their potential top-level playing opportunites increased. The development of these players at the highest level, will create a greater talent pool from which the England manager can select.
It will be a good while before the full implications of the referendum vote are known, and how exactly football will be impacted. So for now, a wait-and-see approach is the only option.
But it seems almost certain that British clubs, and United in particular, will be facing an awkward new reality.