BCFC: Work Permit Troubles

Birmingham City faced transfer heartache on Wednesday when news emerged that Ogenyi Onazi was refused a work permit and thus could not sign for the club. While Onazi captained Nigeria in their last competitive game and has played many internationals for them, he was hamstrung by Nigeria’s poor FIFA ranking over the past two years.

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I’m going to admit – this aggregate ranking is a new one on me. I had assumed that as Nigeria are currently ranked 38 then it should be okay – but because their ranking had dipped as low as 66 the adjudicating panel ruled that as their aggregate ranking for the past two years was 54, this meant Onazi could not sign.

It’s safe to say it’s annoyed a few fans – especially when on the same day Jose Izquierdo was granted a work permit to sign for Brighton despite only having two caps for Colombia.

I think the grievances are split between the fans who think the FA have “shafted” Blues and the fans who think Blues should have known that there would be work permit troubles.

I can’t sympathise with the former. The rules are in place for a reason – to protect English talent from being swamped by players from non-EU countries.

Exceptions are supposed to be made for “elite talent” – hence Watford being allowed to sign the uncapped Brazilian Richarlison, but those signings are costly and more than likely outside of Blues’ scope.

Another example of this is Nigerian international Wilfried Ndidi, signed by Leicester in December 2016. While Nigeria’s ranking was really bad, Ndidi was 19 at the time of signing with five caps – and he cost Leicester £17million.

I think this has been brought in because the price of English talent has risen, to continue to make it harder to bring in “cheap” foreigners.

I actually saw a Blues fan suggest that they double the price paid for Onazi so that they could take advantage of this – which I have to say is just absurd. To overpay £4million for a player to cheat a work permit system strikes me as idiocy.

I am however concerned slightly that Blues should have thought about this some more.

I can’t vouch for the veracity of this statement, but having spoken to someone who works within the game I learned that “the vast majority of work permit appeals made by Championship clubs are rejected”.

When you’re paying Darren Dein £25k per month to help you sign players, you would think he would help Blues ensure they don’t waste their time chasing players they cannot sign.

Blues may now move on to Afriye Acquah – at an eye-watering price of €8million. The price may well help the deal get done – but again I’m not convinced Acquah has played enough games. Ghana are ranked 50 in the world but a look at their historic rankings shows that their ranking has dropped to 50 in the last two years so we can’t seemingly get done on this “aggregate ranking” again.

Harry Redknapp sounded exasperated when interviewed. The implication was clear – that Jeff Vetere and Darren Dein hadn’t done what they were supposed to. Whether there is some sort of friction between the three remains to be seen.

One thing is clear in my mind though. There are still two weeks left in the window and it’s not time to panic. Yes, there have been injuries and frustrations – but it could be worse. Just look across the expressway…

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