You may or may not recall me having a good whinge back in January about Celtic's move for Ivorian midfielder Eboue Kouassi. At the time Kouassi was 19 years old, uncapped, had played only a handful of league matches for his Russian club, and was so unknown that most journalists got his first and last names the wrong way around until after he had signed. And yet he was granted a work permit.
I thought this was pretty iffy.
In order to keep the Home Office happy, non-EU players need a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the SFA, which pretty much guarantees them a work permit. The criteria for the GBE is supposed to be as follows:
- They must have played in 75% of competitive internationals in the previous two years that they were available for
- Their country must be 70th or higher in the FIFA World Rankings (on average over the previous two years)
If a player doesn't meet either criteria (Kouassi didn't meet the first) clubs have to request a panel to hear an appeal. The panel has jurisdiction to issue a GBE if they feel the player is "of the highest standard" and "able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in Scotland".
Now, that's pretty airy-fairy stuff; obviously the standard of a player is completely subjective. If I were being facetious, I'd query whether any player "of the highest standard" would want to play in Scotland. As for Kouassi, how anyone could judge a teenager with minimal first team experience to meet either of those criteria is completely beyond me.
Anyhoo, I thought I'd dig a little deeper. After all, Kouassi isn't the first player for whom the rules seem to have been stretched. Back in 2008, Koki Mizuno pitched up at Parkhead after Gordon Strachan bigged him up as Shunsuke Nakamura's heir apparent; since Strachan was Celtic boss at the time, he was obviously being completely impartial. Mizuno started two league games in as many seasons.
If you think that's bad, then check out Nigerian Rabiu Ibrahim. Who? Exactly. He was signed by Neil Lennon in similar circumstances. Ibrahim made a solitary appearance in the hoops and signed for Kilmarnock a year later, where he couldn't establish himself as a regular.
And Rangers have got GBEs via appeal for three players already in this transfer window, including an uncapped Colombian striker who was playing in Finland last year.
So I actually emailed the SFA asking how many players had received GBEs in recent times, and a chap called Sandy Bryson was kind enough to send me a detailed reply. The answer was quite disturbing.
Between June 2015 and June 2017, seventeen GBEs were issued - that is, seventeen non-EU players were given permission to play in Scotland. Thirteen of those were after an appeal hearing.
That's thirteen out of seventeen that didn't meet the criteria. That's 76%!!!
Not only that, but the four that did meet the criteria included extensions to current GBEs - non-EU players already playing in Scotland who had signed new contracts or changed clubs.
Blimey. Perhaps this rule isn't fit for purpose?
I replied to Mr Bryson with a request for a list of names of players who had received GBEs, but sadly never got a reply. And trying to work out who the seventeen are was bloody hard. I have narrowed it down to eighteen names - and here they are. If any of the names are wrong, or I've missed any, then please let me know and I'll amend.
Christian Gamboa (Celtic)
Eboue Kouassi (Celtic)
Eiji Kawashima (Dundee United)
Perry Kitchen (Hearts)
Juwon Oshaniwa (Hearts)
Efe Ambrose (Hibs)
Ofir Marciano (Hibs)
Kevin Dzierzawski (Peterhead)
Eduardo Herrera (Rangers)
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers)
Carlos Pena (Rangers)
Nir Bitton (Celtic)
Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic)
Tom Rogic (Celtic)
Jozo Simunovic (Celtic)
Harlain M'Bayo (Aberdeen)
Kolo Toure (Celtic)
Niko Kranjcar (Rangers)
The first eleven seem nailed-on. The 'probables' include three Celtic players who signed new contracts during that two year period. Simunovic and Kranjcar are both Croats; whilst Croatia is in the EU, the UK does have a restriction on Croatians working here. According to press reports at the time, Simunovic needed a work permit. Kranjcar and Toure spent enough time playing in England that I would have thought they would have achieved citizenship, but it's unclear if they did so. M'Bayo is an Aberdeen youth player who apparently needed to get through home office red tape to be allowed to play for the club.
As for the four players who didn't require appeals, it's quite possible that three of them were Bitton, Izaguirre and Rogic, all of whom were getting extensions rather than new GBEs. So does that mean that just one out of thirteen new applications was automatically successful?
Why am I so interested in this? For a start there are seven Celtic and four Rangers names on the list, which suggests that Scotland's two biggest clubs are taking significant advantage of the system. The hope is that guys like Kouassi can follow in the footsteps of Victor Wanyama and earn a tidy profit for the club in the long run. After all, clubs from the likes of Portugal or Scandinavian countries do very well in this respect because they aren't restricted in the same way; no wonder our boys want a piece of action.
Secondly, at a time where everyone's whinging about the lack of opportunities for Scottish youngsters, it is worth noting that these players are another obstacle in the way.
Thirdly, the system up here is so much more lax compared to England. Efe Ambrose was denied a loan move from Celtic to Blackburn in January because the English FA declined to treat him as a special case. Yet he was able to sign for Hibs in June because the SFA took a more relaxed view. And because there's a lack of transparency we don't know who is on the panel, and how impartial they are.
And finally, how many of the names on that list would you describe as "of the highest standard" and "able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in Scotland"? Kevin Dzierzawski, now at Peterhead after failing to get a regular game at Queen of the South, is a particular cracker. But none of these guys are Lionel Messi. Hell, I'd say only Simunovic and Rogic can realistically aspire to play at a higher level than this.
This is a starting XI you can make from those names. Not really of the highest standard, is it?
Ach, maybe no-one else cares too much. Maybe Mexican midfielders and Costa Rican defenders add a bit of glamour. But as far as I can see its just one more reason why the SFA isn't fit for purpose.
Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.