MOUSSA Dembele is, by common consent, the finest young footballer to arrive in Scotland in many years.
The 20-year-old Celtic striker is the top-scorer in the country, having already scored 31 goals this season, and he is a shoo-in for player of the season.
However, if a hard Brexit had been in operation last summer, Dembele would not be playing in Scotland because, at that time, he did not meet the strict requirements of the Home Office for work permits for footballers that apply to all non-EU players.
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As he is from France, however, Dembele could move to Celtic with no restrictions and now the club has an asset valued at between £30 million and £40m on the transfer market, and it is likely that he will move soon to the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea or Manchester United.
If he elects to see out his contract, however, and a hard Brexit with no deal on migrant workers is forthcoming, Dembele and all the current EU players plying their trade in Scottish football might have to leave.
If hard Brexit happened tomorrow those leaving could include Dedryck Boyata and Logan Bailly (both Celtic) from Belgium, and a fellow naturalised Belgian citizen originally from Cameroon, Arnaud Djum (Hearts). Celtic might also lose Jozo Simunovic of Croatia, Erik Sviatchenko of Denmark, and goalkeeper Dorus de Vries (Netherlands).
Rangers could see Niko Krancjar (Croatia) and Jon Toral (Spain) depart, while Kostadin Gadzalov (Bulgaria) and Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Kevin Gomis (both France) would leave Dundee. And there are plenty more EU players plying their trade in Scottish football.
Think of all the great EU players who have graced Scotland’s top flight – Brian Laudrup, Stilyan Petrov, Jorg Alberz, Lorenzo Amoruso, Virgil van Dijk and Artur Boruc spring to mind – and so many more who would not have been automatically allowed residential status here under rules that a hard Brexit will possibly bring.
Fraser Wishart, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association Scotland, can offer no reassurance to his foreign members, their clubs or fans because he simply does not know what is going to happen at Brexit, hard or soft.
He said: “We have quite a big proportion of players here who come from within the EU. We have discussed the question of Brexit internally, with our colleagues at the English PFA and with the Professional Players Federation which includes rugby players and cricketers.
“We need to position ourselves and deal with this when it comes along, but the truth of it is that nobody knows what is going to happen – not even Theresa May knows, so therefore why should Scottish football?”
In the case of a hard Brexit with no deal on migrant workers, the PFA chief executive fears the worst, and he added: “We are an association that prides itself on being inclusive, we’ve got members from all over the world, and we’re part of the world players’ union FIFPRO, but we have to deal with the law of the land, whatever that may be.
“One thing is certain – it is not going to be the same. Freedom of EU players to come and play in the UK and vice versa – we are always encouraging our members to try and play abroad to better themselves – is under threat and it’s all going to be more difficult.
“The reports going around about a hard Brexit are worrying, and it’s wider than football, it’s worrying for our country in my opinion.
“We are going to have to live with the fact that we are going to leave the EU in whatever way, and one of the issues we have is that we have members who have contracts to play here and some even want to settle and make their home here.
“As a union we will have to do what we can to protect our members’ contracts, but overall none of us can say anything about the effects of a hard Brexit – we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Ahead of Theresa May triggering Article 50, that’s a position that a lot more people than Fraser Wishart find themselves in.