Football fan often take for granted the myriad ways in which a young and promising career might stall in youth development. We’ve talked about this often when discussing how uneven and a bit of a lottery player development can be. That for every moment like Barcelona’s Golden Generation and even that one that saw the rise of a few prized players out of Manchester United’s own development system, there are untold thousands of youth players that don’t shake out.
This happens for any number of reasons: lack of stability at the club, for example, could lead to a youth being bought for specific skillsets only to have those same skills be undervalued when a change in manager happens. Sometimes it’s a matter of a youth only standing out in a crowd of slightly less talented players. Sometimes it’s a major injury that cause development to stall. Simply told, there’s a lot of space between catching the eye of a scout and donning a shirt and trotting out onto the pitch with the first team.
Sadly, for Liverpool’s Brazilian midfielder Allan Rodrigues de Souza, one of those things appears to also be immigration policy. One of the requirements for a player to be registered in England is to pass work permit laws. Now, I’m no immigration expert in terms of the EU, but my understanding is that under the law, if one can gain enough experience playing in various EU countries and distinguish themselves, they can gain a work permit and visa via a rule in immigration policy that allows for immigrants to work if they represent a unique and valued skillset.
Because elite athletics is so competitive and only a small number of people get to ply the trade, one would presume that rising to the top ranks with Grade A performances would streamline the process. That’s likely true. But if you are only plodding along in loans and getting minor minutes, it then means that the path to gaining that necessary valuation (however immigration officials decide that mark) becomes tougher to tread. So it goes for Allan who, today, the club has announced as going off on loan back to Brazilian side Fluminense. This decision won’t work towards gaining the necessary time in Europe he needs for work permit reasons and, likely, signals an end to his time in Red.
Reckoning with a youth prospect who was not able to take the field for the Reds due to work permit issues on the same day that the President of the United States declares a national emergency due to unfounded claims and calls for national security reminds us that the things we deem political do have weight and consequence in sport. Because if politics is simply the way we choose as a people to arrange our society, then sports is politics and politics is necessarily involved in sport.
There must be among us as supporters of a football club that has sporting heroes from across the globe and, often, belonging to communities that are demonized in public discourse, a true confrontation with how the political realities facing people from marginalized communities are necessarily felt by stars of our favorite club. That the force of Islamaphobic and xenophobic and racist and homophobic and misogynistic laws necessarily manifest themselves in our sport. Allan Rodrigues de Souza is going back to Brazil because he could not find the appropriate channels for relief to ply his trade in England. How many Allan’s are living in our neighborhoods right now?