The proportion of foreign soccer players in professional teams has increased steadily over the last three decades. The progression has been strong in Europe after the “Bosman” ruling of 1995 relaxed quotas that limited the number of players that European countries could import. The development of soccer as an entertainment industry led to the introduction of pay television that provides financial support to clubs and widens their scope of recruitment. Today, there are more than 13,300 foreign players in 2,351 teams recognized by the world governing body Federation of International Football Association (FIFA). Brazil is the largest exporter, with a total of about 1,330 Football players spread across 147 leagues in 85 countries. Argentina and France have more than 800 expatriates each.
Nigeria leads in African expatriates, the United States in North America, Japan in Asia, while Australia is the largest exporter in Oceania. The biggest importers of footballers are England, Italy, and the United States. The second non-European country, Mexico, ranks 11th globally with 289 foreign footballers.
Foreign Footballers In Latin America
Mexican leagues have the highest number of foreign players, with a total of 289 as of 2019. The number has gradually increased over the years, raising concerns in the country over the future of local players. In 2016, the top league in the country, Liga MX, announced that each team should have a minimum of eight locally born players in the starting XI and substitute list for every match, while limiting the number of foreign-born players to 10. Previously, the league limited the number of non-Mexican athletes to five per team, but there were concerns over the number of soccer players from Portugal, Spain, and other Latin American countries receiving Mexican citizenship. In 2019, the league amended the law to limit the number of foreign athletes in the matchday squad to eight by 2022 and seven by 2023. The move is expected to give more opportunities to local players and improve the quality of the Mexican national team. However, other football stakeholders argue that barring international players limits the ability of Mexican leagues to attract investors and global fans.
There are about 179 foreign players in Chile, but the figure is expected to rise to about 260 by 2021. A majority are from South American countries, mainly Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The Primera Division, the top league in the country, attracts about 150 foreigners. Although Chile is a football powerhouse in Central and South America, it is yet to match European football. Top Chilean players prefer playing football in Europe, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico. Football stakeholders in the country argue that the quality of the Chilean League has declined over the past few years due to restrictions on foreign players. A few years ago, teams could field about seven international players each. By 2017 the number had been lowered to five, and by 2018 it had declined further to four. This prevents clubs from attracting better quality, thus limiting the competitiveness of the local leagues.
There are about 125 foreigners playing football in Argentina compared to the more than 800 Argentinians playing outside the country. Argentina is a global football powerhouse and has produced some of the best players in the world, including the legendary Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Angel di Maria. The top league, Superliga, attracts top players from Uruguay, Columbia, Paraguay, Chile, and Venezuela. Although the Argentine league is popular and locally competitive, it is yet to attract attention on the global scene. Top athletes prefer playing in European leagues. Old and fierce rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate are the most popular clubs in the country. Clubs can register a maximum of six foreign players but can only field five at a time.
Peru is not as famous as it was during the Golden Generation of the 1970s and 80s. Few people can name a footballer of Peruvian origin playing in any of the world’s top leagues. However, over 110 foreigners play in Peru, most of whom are in the Primera Division. Most foreigners are from the neighboring states of Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Uruguay, and Paraguay. In 2008 the world governing body FIFA banned Peru from taking part in international competitions due to political interference in football matters.
Brazil is the top exporter of professional footballers, with a total of over 1,300 playing in leagues across the world. The South American state has produced some of the best soccer players in the world, including Pele, Ronaldo, Robinho, Ronaldinho, and Neymar. Despite being a football powerhouse and producing the best players in the world, Brazilian leagues, including the top league, Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, have been unable to replicate the same. Top clubs in Brazil, including Corinthians, Palmeiras, Gremio, Santos, Flamengo, and Atletico PR, do not have the financial muscle of European or Asian clubs and often lose their top players. There are about 63 players in the top Brazilian league representing 9.7% of the total number of players, compared to 333 in the English Premier League, representing 64.9%. Football commands a massive following in Brazil, and most young people dream of becoming professional footballers. Clubs are allowed to have a maximum of five foreigners to ensure the development of local talent.
Bolivia, just like Peru, is not a great footballing nation, and few people can name professional footballers from the country. Its leagues are also not popular on a global scale. About 15 Bolivian footballers play outside the country, a small percentage compared to the more than 96 foreigners who play in Bolivian leagues.