No van Dijk, no Wanyama: how Brexit rules may mean Celtic youth influx

By Euan Davidson

December 2, 2020

Celtic’s modern successes would not have been possible without foreign talent.

Where would Celtic be now without the likes of Henrik Larsson, signed for just £650,000 from Feyenoord? What about Virgil van Dijk, signed from Groningen for £2.48m in 2013? Victor Wanyama, Lubo Moravcik, Marvin Compper… the list goes on and on.

Under Brexit rules, however, the days of bringing in cheap foreign talent may be gone. The Home Office has approved a work permit system that, if followed by the SFA, could be bad news for Scottish football.

The new permit rules are based on three categories (via Daily Record):

  • Senior and youth international appearances
  • Quality of the selling club, based on the league they are in, league position and progression in continental competition
  • Club appearances, based on domestic league and continental competition minutes

Celtic defender Nir Bitton (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

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Bitton no more, Shved no more…

Under these rules, it’s unlikely that Celtic would have been granted a work permit for even half of the young talent signed from foreign leagues.

While the likes of Larsson would probably have been granted a work permit under these rules, uncapped or unheralded players would have struggled.

Virgil van Dijk, uncapped for Holland in 2013 but now the world’s best defender, is unlikely to have made the cut. Odsonne Edouard, a France youth international, may have qualified having come through PSG’s academy.

Celtic’s mixed fortunes in the foreign player market have unearthed some absolute gems and some duds. However, the ones who have succeeded have made their name at Celtic Park and found enormous acclaim elsewhere.

The financial model of buying low and selling high would be near impossible under these restraints.

Karamoko Dembele and Patryk Klimala / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Youth movement

It’s likely that, barring the top clubs in England, teams around the UK will look to introduce more local talent. You could reasonably argue that this is a good thing.

After all, the Lisbon Lions were all born within 30 miles of Glasgow.

In years to come, the likes of Kerr McInroy, Ewan Henderson and Owen Moffat will be looking to establish themselves at Celtic, just like James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney before them.

There’s always room for exciting Scottish players at Celtic. That’s always been the case and it doesn’t change with a new work permit system.

Football is a global game, and with all of the other sacrifices people will have to make under Brexit, this feels like another blow.

Gil Heron (right), hanging out with Muhammad Ali / (Photo Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

A club open to all

Celtic have always been an outward-looking, international club.

In 1937, Mohammed Salim became the first Indian player to make an appearance for a European club. Gil Heron, father of legendary musician Gil Scott-Heron, became Celtic’s first black player in 1951 (although this claim is disputed).

Since the club’s foundation, there have been no barriers to playing for Celtic. It is a club open to all.

Should the SFA follow the lead of the Home Office in how they conduct work permit classification, it would be a blow to the club and the league more widely.

There are players at SPFL clubs who would not qualify under these rules. That leaves a talent vacuum that will frustrate supporters across the pyramid.

What would Scottish football have looked like without the likes of Hicham Zerouali at Aberdeen? Frank Sauzee and Mixu Paatelainen? It’s a sad thought.

Scottish clubs should always be looking to promote from within of course – that doesn’t change regardless of draconian rules from the UK Government.