In the second part of this study, we will abord the expatriation of footballers around the world as well as the other factor of the geographical selectivity of the international flows of footballers, the history between nations.

This CIES study was conducted on a sample of 137 leagues around the world on 2120 clubs. A total of 12051 expatriate players have been identified. Regarding their ages, the expatriate footballers included in this study were 26.8 years old on 1 May 2017 while the average age of the national players was 25.3 years. Footballers aged 21 or under account for 14.1% of expatriate players compared to 28.9% for nationals.

Products of big nations of football

Brazil is the most represented country in absolute terms (1202 players), followed by France (781) and Argentina (753). Nationals of these three countries make up 22.7% of all expatriates. Among the countries with more than 200 expatriates, there are nine nations in Europe, four in South America and two in Africa. With the exception of Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, all of these countries have a majority of nationals in UEFA member clubs. This reflects the centrality of Europe in the global football economy.

Thirteen of the 20 nations with expatriates between 100 and 200 are also European. The remaining countries are in Africa (Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Senegal), North America (United States), South America (Paraguay) and Asia (Japan and South Korea). Among these different origins, Paraguayans, Japanese and Koreans are the only ones for whom Europe is not the main destination.

About the French, almost a quarter of expatriate footballers from France play in English clubs (107) or Belgian clubs (83). Four other countries bordering France are among the top ten destinations for French players: Luxembourg, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. In addition, more than 30 French nationals are under contract with professional Greek and Turkish clubs.
The French present in the Algerian first division (33 players), are in the vast majority of footballers of Algerian origin who grew up in France and who returned to their parents’ country to pursue their professional career. Today, the United States is the second most non-European destination.

Networking thanks to history

As seen previously, the spatial distribution of foreign players is heterogeneous. For example, more than half of the players under contract in Spain and Italy are Latin American, while in France, half of the foreign players present come from Africa. This geographical selectivity of the international flows of footballers shows the need to take into account factors that are not directly economic, but involve history between nations (language links, colonization, similar legal framework), actors and networks.

The opportunity to recruit foreign-produced players depends more on the knowledge and relationships that leaders have or are able to mobilize than purely objective criteria. In this perspective, the notion of opportunity has a relative and relational meaning: relative because changing according to the actors; relational, because the opportunities are created by the interaction of these same actors in the framework of transfer networks that structure the international migration of footballers.

For African players returning to England, France is not only a platform, but also a springboard. Within these career trajectories, the various intermediaries involved in these player transfer networks have set up value-added chains, increasing the value of footballers in the movement. This is how the actors of the transfers take advantage of the economic differentials existing between the leagues of the different nations.

Many agents or intermediaries were already active in professional football before embracing this career. They then highlight their relational capital accumulated throughout their journey to link the supply and demand of work and build migration channels that their players eventually borrow.

The spatial morphology of footballer flows thus often reflects the spatiality of the networks set up by different types of interdependent intermediaries. Through their interactions, these actors contribute to building the economic opportunities underlying the recruitment and international circulation of players.