Okay, so you have been told, read and heard many times that you are unable to come to England to play professional football. However, you see the likes of Mohammed Salah, Tim Cahill and Park Ji-Sung amongst hundreds of other Non-UK footballers, playing for huge English clubs. So how does this happen!?
UK Football Schools work tirelessly to keep up with the current immigration and footballing laws, so we can advise to the best of our knowledge.
Firstly, it is true that without the correct papers, you can’t be scouted, or signed by a professional football club in the UK, however there are many different ‘loop holes’ and lengths that football clubs will go to, to sign that perfect player for there club. It really is a mine field! I will make clear that players from within the EU (European Union), will find the laws much less strict due to the ‘freedom of movement’ law which was put in place within the EU in 2004, meaning players from many European countries are eligible to play football in the UK (this may change when the UK leave the EU following ‘Brexit.’) Also, those with parents or grandparents who were born in the EU, are likely to be eligible for an EU passport.
I will begin with the youngsters, as laws change when a player becomes older. In England, if you are aged under 16 years old, you must live within a certain time frame of a football club to be able to sign and represent that clubs academy team. The current FA law is that;
• Under 12’s must live within 1 hour (60 minutes) of the football club
• Under 16’s must live within 1 hour and a half (90 minutes) of the football club
This means for overseas players, it is extremely difficult to be signed for a professional club, so unless you are exceptional (at a level where you are not only representing your country at youth international level but are one of the best in your nation), it is next to impossible. However, players can come to the UK on different visas, live here, be scouted and train for a football clubs academy (but not signed!). The most popular visas we have come across are either a ‘Tier 4 Child’ visa or a ‘Tier 2 Dependent’ visa. Here is a little about them both;
• Tier 4 Child Visa – staying on youngsters, this visa is granted to those up to 17 years old and is a study visa. This visa is granted for those coming to the UK to board in a Independent School (not a state funded school), amongst other eligibility requirements, such as being able to demonstrate enough money to cover course fees and living costs.
• Tier 2 Dependent Visa – your parent/s have been granted a Tier 2 Visa in the UK and the child is coming as a dependent. A Tier 2 visa is granted to adults, who are known as ‘skilled workers’ and are coming to the UK to work for a company who will (and can) sponsor the visa. For example, a footballer’s children.
Again, young footballers can’t sign for professional football clubs on these visas, and those training within professional football academies are there because the clubs know that one day, they may be eligible to sign them (for example, after a number of years, people who have lived in the UK can become citizens).
For those over 18 years old, the scenarios and laws change. The majority of footballers you see at the highest level are able to have visa’s granted because they have represented their country at international level, for a certain period of time. For example, Mohammed Salah has represented Egypt at International Level for a number of years. The law stipulates that to be granted this visa, you need the following to apply;
• you’re an elite sportsperson, who’s recognised by your sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of your profession internationally
• your sport’s governing body is endorsing your application
• your employment will develop your sport in the UK at the highest level
However, for the vast majority of players who aren’t fortunate enough to represent their country at International Level, we have heard several different ways that you will be interested to read;
• Carlos Vela - a famous case worth googling. Arsenal loaned him out for several years into Europe so he would become good enough to represent Mexico.
• Players sign for clubs in Europe with less strict immigration laws. They then play here for a number of seasons allowing them to become residents of the country and becoming EU nationals, therefore eligible to sign in the UK.
• Adoption - one young man who was at a school we work with last year signed for a Premier League club. His Mum's sister who had married an English man adopted him, giving him a UK passport!
• Marry a UK citizen!
To summarise, from what we hear and understand, footballers in many countries around the world aren’t able to experience the elite coaching, facilities, analysis, psychology, physiology etc to reach the highest levels required to become professional. By coming to the UK, where football is taken very seriously, you have that chance to receive all of this and fulfil your potential. By achieving this potential, you may well get to a level where you are able to represent your country or go into professional leagues in Europe or at home, which in turn opens doors to the UK professional game.
UK Football schools can recommend the very best football and education programmes, the best boarding schools for football in the UK and offer free football advice for those who are serious about one day, possibly playing at Old Trafford, Anfield or The Emirates!
At the very least, you would be able to look back in the future and know you did everything you could.