Irish Football and The Transfer Market

FIFA has recently delivered a report stating a portion of the information regarding international football transfers in men’s football chronicled in the past decade.

The dossier reveals a whopping $48.5 billion in business done (generally by European clubs) on transfer expenses over that span, with some $3.5 billion paid to football intermediaries. This sounds like a great prelude to

One tidbit of information that could have been missed revealed that most of the players under 18 years (u-18) in the transfer movement in the decade ended 2020 were from The Republic of Ireland.

This is an interesting stat that begs the question of why there is such an exodus of football talent from Ireland. One possible answer lies in the fact that FIFA considers the transfer movement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as international.

With that said, troves of historical data can give us some insight to make calculated speculation about the reason for this. Over the decades, a pipeline has been built of young Irish players taking their talents to the more competitive English league, hoping to change their fortunes.

Not all of them made it. In fact, a great many of them come back home from across the channel being considered as having ‘failed to make their mark – many of whom have no decent record of instructions from the clubs they spent time at.

The lads who managed to climb the ladders of the football league system would more often than not come back from the foundation of the Irish national side. Some make it at an older age, coming over from the League of Ireland and moving to England.

Young Irish have dreamt of playing in the English top-flight. This movement means Irish clubs rarely get compensation or substantial solidarity payments for the time put into training and player development.

At the turn of the millennium, FIFA set out with a raft of measures to regulate what had become an unruly transfer market. The Bosman ruling of 2003 got the ball rolling. Prominent on that agenda was the crackdown on the international transfer of minors.

There was an exemption for the transfer of minors aged 16 within the borders of the EU. And as such, Irish players continued to sign for English clubs at 16. As the English game grew with fatter and richer broadcasting deals and investment by billionaire owners, the recruitment focuses of clubs shifted from regional players from Ireland to other European markets.

Rather than zeroing in on marking nearby players, English sides cast a more extensive net giving players from all up Europe. Youth academies at English clubs steadily loaded up with any youth players of other nationalities.

Not to go under the eye of the FAI, they set up the Underage National Leagues with the desire for having the best players playing against one another at all age ranges within Ireland, ultimately developing more homegrown talent.

Regardless of these measures, the pipeline remained strong as demand from English clubs combined with the desire of young players to make it in the English league saw Ireland become the worldwide forerunner in sending out minor footballers.

However, things changed drastically when the UK completed its exit from the EU. Gone with it is the exemption that permits EU players to sign for other clubs at 16. While Irish players are formally allowed to live and work in the UK, football regulations bar young Irish players from moving and signing for clubs in the UK and Gibraltar.


Irish football has a way to go to improve. Alongside chronic lack of investment, governance, and policy failures at the FAI, Irish clubs also have to improve. They need to make sure they get remuneration in the form of transfer fees or compensation to reverse this trend and grow.

Nonetheless, it’s not all gloom and despair. Irish football has risen out of its most turbulent times into a new reality with new solid growth opportunities: a real chance to make a difference for new generations. A new dawn in Irish football where the future can be molded by the Irish instead of depending on others to make their fortunes for them.


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