Africa reacted angrily when English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke announced new measures intended to boost England’s national team.
This is because the rules regarding the granting of work permits to players from outside the European Union were fundamentally changing.
From 1 May, footballers from countries outside Fifa’s top 50-ranked sides will find it harder to play in English football – whereas the previous rule covered countries in the top 70.
At a stroke, footballers from eight African nations sitting in the 50-70 belt – Mali, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, South Africa, Egypt, Zambia, Rwanda and Burkina Faso – found any Premier League dreams shattered.
Former Nigeria captain Sunday Oliseh called the changes “unnecessary warfare”, and legitimately asked why England can’t do more to improve its coaching standards.
Meanwhile Zambia Football Association President Kalusha Bwalya said his career “would not even have started if these proposals were in place” when he was a player.
He labelled the system “unfair” and said talent should be rewarded no matter when you are from, citing George Weah – the only African to ever be crowned Fifa Footballer of the Year (in 1995) – as an example.
The striker, who made his name at Monaco and Milan before joining Chelsea, hails from Liberia, who are currently 117th in the world and who have never been higher than 66th.
The good news though is that the rules have been misunderstood to a certain degree and that if a player from an African nation outside Fifa’s top 50 is good enough – and that is the key, being good enough – he is still likely to make it to England.
‘Pathways still open’
The new proposals are planned to increase the chances for quality players to come in, and both the size of the transfer fee and wage will be factored in when considering whether to import a player who fails the new work permit rules.
In short, the higher the price, the better chance for a non-EU player to gain entry, especially if he is already proven in Europe.
The key difference is that routine players who have contributed little to the game, perhaps even having fallen through the divisions, are being targeted for exclusion, with the obvious hope that English players can make the most of the places that will have been freed up for them.
So Emmanuel Mayuka may not have made it to Southampton, for example, while a host of Africans would never have made it to the championship.
In fact, the English FA says 33% of players who earned work permits under the old system in the last five years would not have been granted a visa under the new rules.
It all means countless African footballers will try their luck elsewhere – with perhaps more finding their way to Spain’s La Liga or German’s thundering Bundesliga or the riches on offer in Russia.
Many pathways are still open – it is just that the quality of players from the continent arriving in the Premier League is set to be the creme de la creme – adding to the riches already provided by Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Michael Essien among others.
Given the pride Africans take in seeing their own light up the Premier League, this should not be too damaging – unless you are an agent of course.