Since the application of Brexit in January 2021, Irish players can no longer join a club in the United Kingdom before reaching the age of majority. A revolution which allows these young people to harden themselves in the country, but which also reveals the shortcomings of Irish football in terms of infrastructure.
Irish football can finally pamper its young shoots. Ireland, which faces the France team in Dublin on Monday March 27, has been experiencing a revolution since January 2021. For two years and the application of Brexit, Irish players can no longer sign in English clubs, before to be of age. This sudden change, a real opportunity for the training of young people, has swept away a tradition that has been rooted for decades.
Before Brexit, it was customary for young Irish talents aged 15 to 17 to leave Ireland to join neighboring England, its prestigious clubs and its money. Generations of players – Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Tony Cascarino or even John O’Shea – have been there. “For English clubs, the Irish were easy recruits, who spoke the same language. Culturally, young Irish people automatically went to England“, explains Sébastien Berlier, French expatriate in Dublin who manages the Irish Football account on social networks.
Since January 2021 and the application of Brexit, young Irish players must now be patient. “This is great news for local football,” assures Gavin Cummiskey, Irish journalist for The Irish Times. For the past two years, players who have not yet reached the age of majority have been making their debuts in the Irish first division in increasing numbers (22 in 2022 and already 7 in 2023 when the season has just started, compared to 10 in 2021).
End of premature departures in England
Luke Nolan hopes to be one of them soon. At 16, this young Irish left-back signed last February with Bohemians, a club based in Dublin and one of the most famous in the country. “It’s very stimulating to see all these young people start in the first division. All the big clubs in the country are doing it, it’s very encouraging”assures the young man, met Sunday morning in a hotel in the south-west of Dublin, with his father.
He is part of this first generation of players who will not have the opportunity to prove their talent in England – at least not until they are 18 – because of Brexit. “It’s not frustrating. I would even say it’s positive. My goal today is to be able to play in the Irish Premier League quickly.”explains Luke Nolan, whose face is still marked by the metamorphoses of adolescence.
At his side, his father casts a benevolent gaze on him. “When you’re a father, you can’t know if your son is going to make the right career choices. The most important thing is his development, his education“, he supports, seeing in Brexit a great opportunity for young Irish players to take the time to reflect. Because in the past, many people have experienced great disappointment when leaving their native country for the England.
“Eighteen months after their departure, we saw the vast majority of kids returning home very disappointed at not having succeeded, sometimes alcoholics, drug addicts or addicted to gambling.describes Pascal Vaudequin, a Frenchman who played in Ireland from the end of the 1980s, and who continues to work with the Irish Football Federation (FAI). I also saw the same problem in Northern Ireland.” If the latter can still fall into the same faults, because members of the United Kingdom, the Irish are no longer subject to it because of Brexit.
Polishing young Irish talent
“The players are more trained today and more mature”, assures Pascal Vaudequin. “Young people can toughen up, build a personality before going abroad”, agrees Paul Nolan. At 18, some Irish people take advantage of the Common Travel Area (common travel area) to join English clubs without the need for a work permit, a precious sesame that other European players need to sign in a British club.
Others plan to sue in the country. Luke Nolan is aiming higher. Faster. “After making my debut in the first division, the objective would be to join a European club quickly enough to take advantage of the infrastructure which is much better there., explains the young side, who dreams of playing in the Bundesliga, the German first division. Because that’s where the shoe pinches. “Brexit is a good thing for young players, but it reveals significant structural problems in Irish football”underlines the journalist Gavin Cummiskey.
Ireland has a significant lag in terms of infrastructure: some professional clubs in the first division have no official training center and only a few teams have a training center. Unable to sign in England, and in order not to waste their talent, some young people therefore join the Old Continent before their 18th birthday. This is the case of several Irish present in Italian clubs, such as the promising Kevin Zefi (17 years old, Inter Milan) and Cathal Heffernan (17 years old, AC Milan).
“There are no more English recruiters at the edge of the lawns todaytestifies Paul Nolan. So they’ve always been there.“Instead, recruiters from other countries are flocking, hitherto indifferent to the Irish market. In France, Glory Nzingo, a native of Dublin, thus signed in Reims at the age of 17. This movement of exile which triggers, and on which Luke Nolan would like to surf, could come to undermine the positive effects of Brexit for Irish football.
Lack of investment and infrastructure
“Infrastructure is an embarrassing and worrying subject. There needs to be more public investment in Irish football“, supports Gavin Cummiskey, who insists that the Irish U17s were the first to qualify for the next European championship of the age category. But still it would be necessary that the leaders of Irish football inspire enough confidence to the authorities.
“The government is reluctant to give money to the federation because of what happened with John Delaney”, slips us a member of the FAI, in reference to the disastrous financial management of the previous president of the Federation (2004-2019). However, the enthusiasm remains. “Irish football is in a phase of renewal. When we see what the clubs put in place, it’s day and night between today and a few years ago“, assures Pascal Vaudequin.
“The government will end up investing“, wants to believe Gavin Cummiskey, while the clubs today receive 20,000 euros per year from the Federation. Far from the 500,000 euros annually necessary to run a training center. A qualification for Euro 2024 would give doubt a boost to Irish football in full revolution.But for that, it will be necessary to beat the French team of Kylian Mbappé, no small feat.
Source: France TV Info