Foreign footballers face fresh challenges in Premier League

Foreign footballers from outside the EU will be barred from joining Premier League clubs from October unless they can speak simple English under new immigration rules.

The English test forms part of a points-based system that will cut the number of immigrants entering Britain by about 20,000 a year. But ministers have decided to exempt performers at specific festivals, including Edinburgh, Glyndebourne, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and the London Marathon.

The new rules will apply to all skilled workers – including footballers and managers – from non-EU states. The Government planned originally to insist that they understood English up to GCSE level but this was changed amid fears that it would rule out too many players, such as Manchester United’s Ji-Sung Park, from South Korea, and Carlos Tévez, from Argentina, and Arsenal’s Denilson, from Brazil, who have struggled to master the language, and man will have no choice but to use interpreters.

Favourite training ground expressions being taught includes “pick your man up!”, “don’t let him turn you!”, and “take him on, beat your man!” Eleven hours is the average time it takes to educate them from zero English to being able to function on the field.

Instead of the usual textbook approach, however, one of the top teaching tools is the Subbuteo miniature soccer game. It is used to re-enact an actual game so the relevant phrases come to life making the language as pertinent as possible to what they’re going to be doing on the field.

“There’s no point in teaching him to say “my uncle’s pen is in your auntie’s bureau”, or how to buy a first class train ticket,” said Dr Kettle-Williams.

“We need it to be real, so he can function on the field. There’s no time there for hesitation, or stopping to think “what do they mean?”

“We teach them these phrases and then, in the next game, they are alert and switched on, understanding instructions from the sidelines and playing better.”

The Home Office document said that workers would need to demonstrate “an ability to understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases, to introduce themselves and others and ask and answer question about basic personal details”.

Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said: “I am afraid they will have to speak English. We do not want people coming to work alone. We had originally suggested requiring everybody to have English to GCSE level, but a lot of people thought that was going over the top.”

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