In Europe, the migration of athletes under the age of eighteen appears to be a particular case of migration to this continent. Being an immigrant footballer in Europe is now a common phenomenon. Immigration played a role in the football market, particularly in the French and Anglo-Saxon markets. The transnational circulation of football players as we know it today is a direct consequence of the Bosman judgment.
The historical works have focused on the reasons that lead foreign footballers to leave their country and the conditions of installation and reception of the first migrant footballers on European soil. The idea of geographic movement of footballers is linked to the development of competitions that led European professional clubs to recruit top-level footballers from across national borders in order to strengthen their teams.
In this issue, we will rely on the work of the CIES to initially analyze the migration of minor footballers in Europe before evoking expatriates of all ages in the world. We will also come back to the importance of networking in the functioning of these sports migration flows.
Transfers of young footballers in Europe
In 2016, out of 34 European countries, there are more than 597 minor players who have migrated.
These movements are more common in team sports in general. Of the professional staff in 36 football leagues in Europe, just over a third of the players are expatriates. Today it is normal for a Champion’s League team to consist of several foreign players. Can we win this competition currently with only national players, and who are moreover locally trained players?
More, according to the CIES, the average age of a first transfer abroad tends to decline. The most promising players are legalized by foreign clubs from an early age. More and more footballers go abroad even before their 18th birthday and start in the first team of their training club.
In twenty years, the proportion of active players in the five major European leagues who have migrated during their career has more than doubled.In 1995, 24.1% of the European championships already had experience abroad. In 2015, this percentage increases to 55.2%.
The highest international player mobility is linked to the steady decline in the average age of first departure abroad. In the Big-5, this average increases from 23.2 years in 1995 to 21.1 years in 2015. The trend is similar in the 31 European first division championships, where the average age of first international migration is down : over 22.2 years in 2009 to 21.7 years in 2016.
This decrease in the average age of first departure abroad reflects the increase in migrations of minor players. Between 1995 and 2015, the number of players who left their country before the age of 18 more than tripled in the Big-5: 51 teams in 1995 to 184 in 2015. A new record was broken in 2016: 195 minor footballers.
An increasingly young start
The trend is the same in the 31 leagues of first division of UEFA member countries.
Now, 13.8% of big-5 players who have already migrated during their career have gone abroad before the age of 18. This percentage is 10.1% across the 31 European leagues.
The vast majority of minor migrants come from UEFA member countries (73.5%). Under certain conditions, FIFA regulations allow European clubs to recruit foreign community players from the age of 16. Border movements are more and more agreed.
With regard to national origins, Belgian players are most exposed to an international transfer before the age of 18. French talents follow, they are also courted by teams from other European countries from an early age. The non-European countries with the highest number of migrant minors are Brazil and Nigeria.
England: favorite land of welcome
England is the main destination for players who have left their country as a minor. Of the 597, 180 left the Channel, which represents 30.1% of total departures. The main reason for this trend is the economic power of the English clubs which provides them with strong arguments in the race to recruit the most promising footballers.
Coming soon, we will see how this geographical selectivity of the international flows of footballers are not only linked to economic factors.