LONDON (AP) – Manchester United fears it will lose out to Real Madrid and Barcelona when it comes to signing the best young players on the continent after Britain leaves the European Union.
Clubs within the EU and European Economic Arena receive an exemption from FIFA regulations, allowing them to transfer 16- and 17-year-old players between countries in the region. But after Brexit, British clubs may only be allowed to sign foreign players over the age of 18, like the rest of the world, unless a settlement is agreed before the anticipated March 2019 departure from the EU.
''There's a practical, operational issue around Brexit,'' United chief financial officer Cliff Baty told a KPMG football finance forum in London on Wednesday, ''with regard to bringing in players from Europe and losing competitive advantage from the likes of ourselves against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
''If you have 16-year-olds going to play for them and if we have to wait until 18 there are clearly practical issues there. I'm sure that will be discussed. It's certainly something the Premier League are aware of.''
United signed a 16-year-old Paul Pogba from French club Le Havre in 2009. The midfielder eventually left but rejoined last August for a world record transfer fee of 105 million euros (then $116 million), becoming one of the club's highest-paid players.
Pogba returned at a time when currency fluctuations in the aftermath of the June 2016 Brexit referendum posed additional challenges for United, with players asking to be paid in euros and United agreeing in un-named cases. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who share the same agent as Pogba, also joined in the 2016 summer transfer window.
''It was a bit difficult last year when you're trying to make signings in the summer and you have players questioning the value of being paid in (pounds) sterling,'' Baty said. ''A lot of European players want to be paid or want to have their value to be underpinned in euros. That's understandable to a degree, but we are not a euro company. We obviously earn most of our income in sterling.
''Last year was a bit difficult ... but you aren't going to lose a signing over that. It just makes the finances a bit more complicated.''
KPMG ranks United as the world's most valuable club at 3.1 billion euros ($3.5 billion), followed by Real Madrid (3 billion euros) and Barcelona (2.8 billion euros), according to a list published Wednesday.
United this month finished sixth in the Premier League, which it last won in 2013 when Alex Ferguson retired.
''We don't have to be winning every year,'' Baty said. ''But we as a club have to be challenging to win every year.''
United did complete the season with two major trophies, collecting the League Cup and winning the Europa League to secure a return to the Champions League.