Andy Watson delves into the markets outside the top bands of the GBE regulations to see if there is any value in shopping there.
The previous articles in this series have focused on how to recruit players within Bands 1 to 3 of the Government Body Endorsement regulations that were implemented in the wake of Brexit.
The leagues encompassed within those bands are more highly-valued by the FA and, by extension, the UK Government, so players who ply their trade in those leagues are easier to recruit by virtue of the points accredited to them.
However, Bands 1 to 3 comprise only 12 leagues in total and, as we showed in a previous Brexitball piece, only 3365 players in those leagues are currently eligible for a GBE to play for an English club under current rules.
The remaining leagues are left in the wilderness of Bands 4-6. It is a dark and cold place for potential talent to lurk for English clubs. There is the echo of promise, the shadow of potential. Leagues within this bracket were once farmed by smart clubs but also chancers. The costs of purchases were low but the chances of success were also questionable.
The question is: is it still possible to bring in players from outside Bands 1-3? And if so, is it a worthwhile pursuit?
Is it possible to bring in players from leagues in Band 4-6?
The short answer is “Yes!” The slightly longer one requires the combination of the FA’s GBE guidance and Analytics FC’s TransferLab tool.
As we know from previous articles in this series, the FA requires a player to meet the threshold of 15 points to become eligible for a GBE. As explained previously, the points are collated via a number of criteria, as outlined below, using the criteria and points values pertaining to Bands 4-6.
An English club looking to sign a Band 4 player will be unable to simply rely upon points that can be attained through domestic league minutes, unless that player played almost all of the minutes for the champions of their domestic league. Therefore, the vast majority of players will have to attain points elsewhere, i.e. through continental competition.
This is where the majority of the eligible players for GBE lie. If a Band 4-6 team qualifies for continental competition and then achieves some degree of success, then the players who play for that club get those points applied. Extra points are given if a player has played an active on-pitch role. Teams that qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League tend to do well in terms of having players with the requisite points.
The final point to make here is that points are aggregated through the twelve months prior to the application. When applying in the January transfer window, the player’s points from the previous season are still applicable. What is not necessarily so clear is at which date the previous season’s points become null and void, i.e. do a player’s appearances in the Champions League in 2020/21 earn him points at the beginning of the 2022 summer window? Either way, it may well make the January window more intriguing for some clubs looking to exploit some extra points for certain players.
Using the TransferLab tool, we have found that a grand total of 510 players are eligible for a GBE across the whole of Bands 4-6. The breakdown per band is presented below:
Considering that Bands 4-6 cover almost the entire world of football—excluding the 12 Band 1-3 leagues—this is a very small player pool. To put it into context, EFL squads are limited to 25 players per club meaning that a single EFL league has up to 600 players within it.
In summary, then, there are a grand total of around 4,000 players outside of the UK who are eligible for a GBE. That number grows when the players with auto-passes from international football are taken into account.
There have been some instances of exceptions being made. For example, Kristoffer Klaesson moved to Leeds after going through an Exceptions Panel. However, there is still confusion around the success rate of that route.
Which players are worth looking at bringing into England from Bands 4-6?
Using Analytics FC’s TransferLab tool, I have been able to build an XI of eligible players from Bands 4-6 who could be a success in England:
Jiri Pavlenka (29)
The Werder Bremen goalkeeper could use last year’s Bundesliga points to make the threshold. Goalkeepers are a real scarcity in this arena. He’s likely to only be a second choice if a move was made.
Alexander Bah (24) – Pape Abou Cisse (26) – Gabriel Fuentes (24)
Danish international Alexander Bah has Slavia Prague’s Europa League run behind him to win the necessary points.
Pape Abou Cisse is a strong all-round central defender who is only available at the moment due to his big involvement in Saint-Etienne’s Ligue 1 campaign last season.
Gabriel Fuentes plays for Junior in Colombia. He qualifies easily as a result of his club’s involvement in the Copa Libertadores. He played substantial minutes in that competition.
Tete (22) – Daniel Samek (17) – Jens Cajuste (22) – Kastriot Imeri (21)
Shakhtar’s Champions League Group Stage helps out Brazilian winger Tete’s case.
Daniel Samek is a 17-year-old potential prodigy, someone who would certainly fit into the bracket historically associated with Band 4-6 transfers. It is a surprise that Brighton haven’t already bought him to be honest. He is available on the 15pt borderline because of his 47% domestic minutes and Slavia Prague’s run to the Europa League quarter finals.
Jen Cajuste has just moved to Stade de Reims in this transfer window and Kastriot Imeri sneaks in due to his brief international minutes for Switzerland.
Karim Adeyemi (19) – Adam Hlozek (19) – Allahyar Sayyadmanesh (20)
Karim Adeyemi is the latest star to come off the Red Bull production line. Currently at Salzburg, he qualifies as a result of their Champions League appearance.
Adam Hlozek is hotly tipped to move soon, another beneficiary to Sparta Prague’s Europa League campaign.
Allahyar Sayyadmanesh is very interesting. Having spent the first half of the season playing for Zorya Luhansk, he ended the recent January window moving from Fenerbahce, his parent club, to Hull City. Sayyadmanesh comfortably cleared GBE regulations and is the prime age to come into the UK and so he is definitely one to keep an eye on to see how this move pans out.
Despite the low number of eligible players, then, it’s clear that there are a number of potential targets worth looking into. However, competition for the best will be fierce.
Have Premier League and Championship clubs been buying players from Bands 4-6 leagues?
It is interesting to look at how many imports came into the Premier League and the Championship over the last three completed seasons from Bands 4-6 of the GBE regulations:
As you can see, there were quite a number of transfers made for players playing in the Band 4 leagues. Interestingly, there were actually more Band 4 transfers than Band 2 and Band 3 over the same period of time. This does prove that Premier League and Championship clubs certainly find players from these leagues viable transfer targets. This is less so the case for Band 5 and Band 6 leagues.
The same pattern continues when considering the amount of money spent in each band:
Unsurprisingly, the highest sums were spent in Band 4 across each of the last three seasons. The graphic also demonstrates the change in transfer fees paid across the last three seasons.
This investment—£350m—is perhaps money that the Government would rather have stayed in this country. By making it much more difficult to buy these players, then, the legislation is clearly having an impact.
Has importing from Band 4-6 leagues been successful previously?
Of course, there’s very little reason to concentrate resources on these minor leagues if the impact of signing players from these leagues is minor.
Let’s take a look at the last three years of transfers and try to assess the success (or not) of those transfers based on time played. The methodology used is the same as in the Band 1-3 investigation and this is based on Josh Hobbs’ work on transfer success.
Here are the numbers from the last three seasons of transfers from Bands 4-6:
The figures for players imported from Band 4 aren’t too bad. Across the three seasons the average number of minutes played by Band 4 recruits has been 39%. By way of comparison, that figure is comparable to transfers into the United Kingdom from the Bundesliga (40%) and far better than the Eredivisie (28%), Jupiler League (32%) and Turkey’s Super Lig (28%).
It’s worth saying at this point that the clubs tapping into these markets will more likely be savvier when it comes to recruitment strategy which could push up the success rate. The point remains, though: it is possible to recruit smartly from Band 4 teams.
The real problems occur when considering the Band 5 and Band 6 leagues. Not many players brought in from these leagues play much of a part for their parent clubs.
However, it’s worth noting that a lot of the players in this sample are young and are often loaned out instead of being kept to try and strengthen the first team initially. This kind of speculation and talent stockpiling is perhaps one of the areas of concern that the GBE regulations are hoping to alleviate.
Transfer successes from Bands 4-6
Some players have made huge impacts at their new clubs. Here is a list of players who have played the highest percentage of minutes in the league since their transfer:
The players in blue are ones bought in the Championship. It is perhaps not surprising that the players brought into that level are sometimes given a more important role at that club. A number of the players cost a significant amount of money but also have come from a league not as far removed in terms of overall quality from the Championship.
It is more difficult to find players in leagues ranked far lower than the Premier League who become key players for their club, especially from the start of their time at the club. The success of Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal in particular does show that it is possible though.
When you break the moves down by team, there are some interesting trends that crop up. There are some clubs who have gone down the path of more obscure recruitment and with varying success:
It has become something of a received wisdom within the game that it is difficult to find value if you’re shopping in the English home-grown talent market. The development of video scouting, the increased prevalence of data and the growth of large recruitment networks at the top level has meant that some clubs have decided to take the route of importing some talent into their squads from more exotic locations. However, there are a number of very different methods at play here.
Premier League Talent Gathering
Manchester City, Brighton, and, to a lesser extent, Wolves, appear to have been using the Band 4-6 leagues in an interesting way for a while.
As you can see in the tables below, the players that they have brought in have barely played for the clubs:
As you can see, almost all of the players are young—between 18 and 22—and most of them are loaned out for their development.
We’ve already covered the Buy-to-Loan strategy employed by clubs in the Premier League in another piece. The problem for these clubs now is that the GBE legislation effectively prevents this from happening.
Potentially, it is this practice that the FA and Government want to penalise and prohibit. Stockpiling talent is generally frowned upon in the game for many reasons but it is yet to be proven that preventing this style of recruitment is going to lead to more chances for home grown talent.
The Championship’s Shopping Experiments
The Championship is a very different case.
Notably, Barnsley have used the Central European market extensively. It’s clear that they have invested time and money into their model and data-driven process and looked to find value players from different markets. To supplement this approach, they have recruited managers from the Central European area and they use a clearly-defined game model that requires players with very specific skill sets.
No doubt Barnsley have been disappointed with the stringent nature of the GBE rules. They have achieved impressive minutes out of their imports with most of them hitting a very high bar of over 40%:
Things are slightly different for Nottingham Forest and Birmingham. Both clubs have foreign ownership (as Barnsley do) but clearly they have used links to particular markets to help enhance their squads.
Forest have shopped extensively in Greece as a result of their ownership but it hasn’t really worked out for them:
Similarly with Birmingham, their use of the Spanish second tier has really not paid off:
They also made a statement signing in picking up Ivan Sunjic from Croatia, but whilst he has played a lot of minutes and become an integral part of the first team, he has failed to elevate the club and is probably not a player that they are likely to make a profit on either.
Compiling this data has given us a greater sense of what the FA and the UK government are trying to achieve with the GBE legislation. The number of players—especially young players—who are bought by English clubs and then either used as squad players, constant loanees or those that disappear from sight altogether is alarming.
Here is a list of players who have signed for clubs in England but who have failed to make any appearances:
With fewer of these transfers being allowed to happen, the clear hope is that more home-grown players will get chances with the result that the money siphoned out of the country to foreign clubs, foreign agents and even the players themselves may stay in the UK, and, ultimately, contribute towards the Exchequer (in the case of the UK government) and the development of the game here (in the case of the FA).
So is scouting in Bands 4-6 worth it?
The relative lack of success of transfers outside the top bands of the GBE regulations may call into question the sense in committing resources to scouting and tracking players within the more backwater markets around Europe.
These leagues are, generally, further away from the UK—some drastically so—and therefore the costs of getting “eyes on” players—both financially and environmentally—are increased. Regardless of the advances of data and video scouting, in-person scouting is still the gold standard to be able to glean all possible knowledge from a new recruit.
With fees paid for talent being reduced across the world with the possible exception of the Premier League, the costs for talent identification need to be carefully weighed up for English clubs.
Here are some tips for how to succeed in Bands 4-6:
Be aware of the outlier cases
As we have already referenced, there are a few ways to use the GBE documentation to recruit players within this difficult terrain. With the difficulty may potentially come less competition amongst those less willing to go the extra mile in search of talent.
For as long as the GBE documents remain the same, there will be an ever-revolving door of players who will drop in and out of eligibility for a GBE. In the XI above, there are multiple players who represent clubs who progressed well in European competition in 2020/21 (Young Boys, Steaua Bucharest, Wolfsberger etc.), many who play for teams who dropped down from Band 1 Leagues to Band 4 via relegation and many who recently transferred out of Band 1-3 leagues to others. All of these changes will mean that those players are likely to only be eligible for GBEs for two transfer windows, the last of which is the current winter window for most players.
For clubs wishing to plan in advance for summer 2022 and winter 2023, it will be worth looking into teams that have gained or are likely to gain substantial continental competition points in 2022.
Analytics FC’s GBE Calculator tool is invaluable for ascertaining and tracking the eligibility of players per the regulation criteria. On top of this, its inclusion in the TransferLab tool makes monitoring these outlier cases very manageable.
Use partner clubs
Partnerships and networks are a potential way around the difficulties of bringing talented players into the UK. It was mentioned in the last installment of the series that Scotland is a little more lenient in their approach to allowing players that don’t hit the 15 points limit to qualify for GBE eligibility.
There are also definite possibilities out there for arrangements in Bands 1-3 leagues—Eredivisie, Jupiler League, LigaNOS, Turkey—for English clubs to continue to invest in Band 4-6 talent and then allow them to develop in a league where they will attain a GBE. Of course, this requires a lot of collaboration and negotiation. However, it could be worthwhile from a long-term business perspective.
Header image copyright IMAGO / CTK Photo