Report finds player migration is still trending upwards

May 15 – The latest study by the CIES Football Observatory has unveiled a surge in expatriate players for the year 2024, marking a new pinnacle in global player migration.

Using data spanning 135 leagues worldwide, the CIES reports illuminates an escalating reliance on expatriates across the transfer market, showcasing a remarkable 20% surge in players moving away from their domestic markets since 2020.

The trend is greatest in UEFA-affiliated countries, where signing from abroad is becoming increasingly popular, particularly for top leagues with the means to geographically widen their search for top-quality players. Unsurprisingly, UEFA hold the highest number of expatriates at 29% of total players, averaging at 8.3 per club across its 83 leagues.

However, amidst this upward trajectory, one notable exception emerges. African nations have recorded a surprising 14% decline in expatriate player presence from 2020 to 2024.

At the forefront of this global player exodus are three powerhouse nations: five-time world champions Brazil (1,338 players), as well as the last two FIFA World Cup winners, France (1,091) and Argentina (995).

Players who grew up in these countries represent up to 22.4% of the expatriates in the 135 leagues studied, reflecting talent in developing top-level footballers and well-established international transfer networks, whilst also offering insight into the lowering quality of their own domestic leagues as young talent is traded for international alternatives.

The Portuguese league stands out as the biggest importer of players from a specific country, with more than 200 expatriates from Brazil alone. Despite the trend of growth, the league’s number of Brazilian players has actually fallen by 14% since 2020.

The CIES analysis shows that importing players who have grown up abroad is a phenomenon that now concerns a greater number of clubs and leagues around the world.

It shows that player mobility is increasingly taking place through transnational transfer networks, not just for the most talented footballers, but also for players at lower levels of professional football.

To see the full data, click here.

Contact the writer of this story, Harry Ewing, at moc.l1715971161labto1715971161ofdlr1715971161owedi1715971161sni@g1715971161niwe.1715971161yrrah1715971161