New FA governing body approval criteria for… – Lexology

What is a Governing Body Endorsement and why are the rules changing?

Japanese star Kaoru Mitoma was one of the rising stars in the Premier League this season. However, when he signed for Brighton in August 2021, despite contributing 25 goals in a record-breaking season for Kawasaki in the Japanese J League, he was immediately loaned out to Union Saint-Gilloise in the Belgian top flight. He did not return to Brighton until the 2022/23 season. While Mitoma found it beneficial to use the Belgian league to adjust to the pace of European soccer, that was not the reason he went there. He didn’t stay in Brighton because he was not even eligible to play in the Premier League. He did not qualify for a Governing Body Endorsement.

After Brexit, all Overseas players need an International Sportsman Visa to play professionally in the UK. In order to obtain the visa, players must be ‘sponsored’ by their respective clubs, and clubs can only sponsor players who have been endorsed by their respective governing body, the Football Association (FA) for players in England. The FA make an assessment to issue an endorsement based on established criteria.

Since the introduction of the post-Brexit approval criteria on 1 January 2021, there has been conflict between the FA and English clubs over the approval process. The Premier League in particular wanted to see rules relaxed to allow clubs better access to international markets, and the 20 clubs came together last year to call for a review of the current system. A consultation was set up to look at the passing regulations, and the result is the most significant rule change since 2021.

FA Governing Body Approval Criteria

The FA passing criteria are based on points. Players must score at least 15 points in the following categories to earn an endorsement:

  1. International appearances and FIFA ranking;
  2. National club appearances;
  3. Continental club appearances;
  4. Final position in the league of the player’s last club;
  5. Continental progression of the player’s last club;
  6. League quality of the player’s last club.

However, players can receive an ‘Auto Pass’ in the first category without needing to earn more points in other categories. The first category is based on the player’s percentage of available minutes played internationally over the past 2 years, with players earning more points for appearances if their national team is higher on the FIFA rankings. The following table illustrates how this works:

A player representing reigning World Cup champions Argentina would receive an Auto Pass for playing only 30% of the minutes available for their country over the last 2 years. Conversely, a Ghanaian player would only receive 2 points under the first criteria for playing 100% of the available minutes for his national team, as Ghana is ranked 60th in FIFA rankings..

An Auto Pass can only be achieved in the first category for international appearances. The other categories work similarly, assigning points based on the number of appearances made and the level of competition the player faces. The other categories will not be covered in detail here, but full endorsement criteria are posted on the FA website.

If a player is unable to achieve an Automatic Pass or the required 15 points from other categories, the club may appeal to an FA Exceptions Panel if:

  1. A player scores between 10 and 14 points, and the club can show that ‘exceptional circumstances’ prevented the player from scoring 15 points; either
  2. If the player is a youth player, the club can demonstrate that the youth player shows “significant potential and is of sufficient quality” to further the development of the game in England.

Kaoru Mitoma did not qualify for a sponsorship because he had no caps for Japan, and the level of competition in the Japanese J League meant that his prolific season at Kawasaki the previous year netted him less than 10 endorsement points. This meant that Brighton were unable to even take their case to the Exceptions Panel, and Mitoma was forced to collect more points in the Belgian First Division before returning to Brighton.

Mitoma is not the only example of this. An investigation by Sky Sports revealed that, over the past 10 seasons, one in seven Premier League transfers would have been ineligible under current sponsorship criteria. This includes big name players like Gabriel Martinelli, Alexis Mac Allister and Riyad Mahrez.

Premier League clubs argued that this prevents them from signing young talent early as they are forced to wait until players progress in their careers to score enough points for an endorsement. Recognizing that English clubs may be left behind by their European rivals, the FA has introduced a new rule to allow clubs to sign players who do not meet FA criteria.

the new rules

As of the 2023/2024 season, English clubs will be able to sign players who do not meet the endorsement points requirement. Under the new criteria, these players are called elite significant contribution (ESC) players. Premier League and Championship clubs will be able to sign a maximum of 4 ESC players, while League One and League Two clubs will be able to sign a maximum of 2 ESC players.

However, the FA have set out some minimum requirements that ESC players are still expected to meet:

  • Played in at least one competitive international youth or senior tournament for a nation ranked in the FIFA Top 50;
  • Played in at least five competitive youth or senior internationals for a nation ranked outside of the FIFA Top 50;
  • Played in at least one junior or senior continental competition match;
  • Played in at least five youth or senior national competition matches.

Significantly, the domestic competitions referenced in these requirements only apply to Bands 1-5 leagues. This excludes players from Band 6 countries, such as Canada, Finland or Peru, from qualifying as an ESC player.

In future, the number of ESC players a club will be able to sign will depend on the number of playing minutes English players are given during the season. Each club will get at least 2 ESC player slots in the 2022/23 season, and between 0-4 club slots in future seasons depending on the number of English players who have played throughout the season. This warning was included by the FA to ensure that young English talents continue to be given the maximum opportunity, citing a reduction in playing minutes for English players in the Premier League in recent seasons.

The effect these changes will have on transfers will be seen in the summer transfer window, and it is expected that there will be an increase in the number of young foreign players coming to England, possibly from lesser known clubs and less established leagues.

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