OPINION | UK points-based immigration rule puts break on summer Bundesliga-Premier League transfers

Transfers from England to Germany have been a pretty fruitful path, in particular for academy players seeking to develop further. Players like Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham and Reece-Oxford all moved to the Bundesliga whilst players such as Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Robin Koch, Shkodran Mustafi and Leroy Sane moved in the opposite direction in recent seasons alone to further their careers.

The highpoint in terms of German players in the Premier League in recent seasons was 2018/19 in which 15 former Bundesliga players were playing in the English top tier including Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger, Erik Durm at Huddersfield and Christoph Zimmermann at Norwich. Former players from Germany that have played in England include Bastian Schweinsteiger, who played one season at Old Trafford in 15/16 and Michael Ballack who stayed at Chelsea for four seasons.

Going into the 2022/23 season there are nine including Bernd Leno at Arsenal and Ilkay Gündogan at Manchester City. Perhaps surprisingly with Germany, unbeaten in the past year and putting in some outstanding performances, seven Bundesliga clubs qualifying for European competition and Eintracht winning the Europa League in particular, you might have expected more from the current crop of talent. Heading into the 2022/23 season, there are currently six English players in the Bundesliga, including Bayern Munich’s Omar Richards. 

So far there has been a limited amount of transfer business between the Bundesliga and the English leagues this summer. The big transfers that have been completed are undoubtedly Bayern Munich’s acquisition of Sadio Mané, albeit for a return of €28m for Liverpool, and Nottingham Forest’s capture of striker Taiwo Awoniyi, who scored 15 for Union Berlin in the past season.

One club that has been doing some impressive business with England is Bochum. Centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap to Southampton could prove to be the most impressive transfers of the summer. The 1.87m former Germany U18 defender has a strong physical presence, is fast and determined and has a lot of potential to improve. Kotchap is one who could well be looking at much bigger things going forward and provided he can adapt to the English game is undoubtedly a talent to watch in coming seasons. 

The €11m the club got for the home-grown talent certainly made a big impression on Bochum, whose first-team squad are currently valued at €48m. A particularly impressive move was Bochum’s recall of Arsenal loanee Jordi Osei-Tutu. Slough-born Osei-Tutu is a product of the Arsenal academy, versatile and can also play as a wing-back. The 22-year-old joined Bochum on a loan in 2019 which turned permanent in 2022 after various loan spells. Osei-Tutu has great ability going forward, he has the potential to be a player similar to Raphaël Guerreiro and has already scored five goals for VfL.

Rule changes in the UK have affected transfers

One potential reason for the slow down may be the UK’s exit from the European Union. New rules are making it harder for EU passport players to sign with the need to now apply for work permits which may be part of the reason for the limited number of signings from Germany. However, the criteria are less stringent for players who are full internationals so more signings might have been expected. 

In particular, the ruling affects younger players. British clubs who want to sign players from the EU, now have to wait until they are 18 and are restricted to signing just six EU players each year between the ages of 18 and 21. In addition, these players will now have to fulfil criteria that determine their eligibility to play in the UK. This includes whether they’ve played international football and the ranking of the league they’ve been playing in.

The restrictions which came in place in 2021 may go some way to explaining the limited amount of transfer business but also may explain why many players with parental roots in third countries in Africa in particular are choosing to play for the national teams there rather than in higher-ranked European countries in order to qualify for the full international status.

Other Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga transfers to/from the Premier League and the EFL Championship this summer

In spite of the slow down there have been other moves between the leagues including Augsburg’s Swiss striker Andi Zeqiri, who returns to Brighton and Hove Albion due to the end of his loan. Winger Jayden Braaf has joined Borussia Dortmund from Manchester City U23s. Austrian midfielder Hannes Wolf has returned from Swansea City to Borussia Mönchengladbach after the loan deal was not extended. Gladbach have in contrast let go of London-born Keanan Bennetts, who was out on loan last season at Ipswich Town and is now out of contract. Everton right-back Jonjoe Kenny returns to the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin having previously spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Schalke. Dutch defender Deyovaisio Zeefuik in reverse has agreed to make Hertha’s loan deal to Blackburn Rovers permanent. 

Winger Ademola Lookman is one impressive player returning to the league after he was recalled by RB Leipzig from Leicester City. South Korean striker Hwang Hee-Chan has left the Red Bull Arena for Wolves after his loan was made permanent. A loss to relegated Norwich City will be Schalke’s recall of centre-back Ozan Kabak. S04’s Japanese defensive-midfielder Ko Itakura has returned to Manchester City following a loan spell. Union Berlin’s loanee striker Leon Dajaku from Sunderland will not be returning to the capital as his loan has been made permanent.  Stuttgart has also triggered the buy option on Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos from Arsenal.

Bayer Leverkusen, FC Köln, Eintracht Frankfurt, Freiburg, Hoffenheim, Mainz, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg have no transfers from or to the English leagues. 

The same pattern has been reflected in the second and third tiers. In the 2. Bundesliga, Xavier Amaechi transferred due to the end of loan from Bolton Wanderers back to Hamburg which leaves four German-born players in the English second tier, including former BVB II midfielder Rheda Khadra at Blackburn Rovers. In the 3. Liga, FC Ingolstadt has taken Dejan Stojanovic out on loan from Middlesbrough and FSV Zwickau loanee Marcel Hilssner has returned to second-tier Coventry City. In League One there are currently three German players including centre-back Max Ehmer at Gillingham.

Transfers to look out for in the coming weeks

Looking forward, in terms of transfers which could still happen, Moussa Diaby to Newcastle United could be a big payday for Bayer Leverkusen, the Bundesliga side are unwilling to negotiate for less than €60m, a significant return on the €15m they paid PSG in 2019. A likely signing is that also of 29-year-old goalkeeper Stefan Ortega from Arminia Bielefeld, who has already had a medical at Manchester City after refusing to sign a 2. Bundesliga contract. 

The move of defender Moussa Niakhaté from Mainz to Nottingham Forest is rumoured to have stalled due to a lack of agreement on the transfer fee with the English club reportedly not having met the Frenchman’s release clause which is rumoured to be €13m. 

Daniel Farke’s Gladbach is on the hunt for further defensive options for midfield after losing top talent Dennis Zakaria to Juventus and negotiations are underway with Manchester City returnee Ko Itakura. 

Winger Sam Edozie also from Manchester City U23s is in negotiations with Bayer Leverkusen currently. Newly-promoted Premier League side Fulham are also interested in signing Kevin Mbabu, who is allowed to leave Wolfsburg this summer.

All transfers to keep an eye out for in what is as yet proving to be a less vibrant summer of transfers than might have been expected, one in which Brexit may have something of a hand in by all appearances.

Ben McFadyean


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