Jean-Marc Bosman

Information: This is an article I wrote for The Eagles Beak and has been published here 1 month it was published on their website. This version may differ slightly from their version. 

In my previous article for TEB I moaned explained how since the formation of the Premier League football players have gained a higher sense of self worth. How players, in particular flair and attacking players, think more and more that the team revolves around them rather than the collective unit is the most important thing.

In this, the second part, about how football has changed I’ll take a look back at how the power balance regarding transfers has changed from being very much in the club’s favour into the player’s, or in a lot of cases, the agent’s favour.

Though the Premier League began life in 1992, it would take several years before player power would fully take hold and the event that would shift the power balance from club to player happened in 1995.

It wasn’t some top league superstar playing for a mid-table club looking for a big money more to a glamorous club. No, it happened in a European Court in Luxembourg where on December 15th 1995 a ruling was passed down that the European Directive on freedom of movement for workers applied to football too.

The player in question who brought the case was Jean-Marc Bosman, a player for RFC Liège in the Belgian First Division in Belgium whose contract had expired in 1990. He wanted to change teams and move to Dunkerque, a French team. However, Dunkerque refused to meet his Belgian club’s transfer fee demand, so Liège refused to let him go.

In the meantime even though he was out of contract, Bosman’s wages were paid, though reduced as he was no longer a first-team player, because he was automatically put on a ‘week-to-week’ contract. He took his case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and sued for restraint of trade citing FIFA’s rules regarding football, specifically Article 17.

Those of you who are old enough to remember can easily forget that before that verdict a club literally owned a player. If, for whatever reason, a player didn’t want to sign a new contract or just wanted to move the club he was with could just refuse to let him go. They owned his player registration and without that he had two options play for that club or not play at all, for any club!

This seems unbelievable to us today but let’s take a look at Saido Berahino’s current situation as an example. As things currently stand Berahino’s contract will expire in June 2017 and he will be allowed to move clubs on a free, or, if you prefer, ‘on a Bosman’.

Before the Bosman ruling Berahino’s contract would expire and the club would keep his registration until another club met their valuation. The player in question would go on a week-to-week contract where they received their basic wage without any add-on’s, enhancements or bonuses.

Of course, it quite often happened that a player wanted to move clubs and refused to sign a new contract and in this situation they were left to ‘rot in the reserves’ so it was in their best interests to seek a compromise even if it meant keep playing while on a week-to-week deal.

On a rare occasion a transfer might go to a tribunal but the buying clubs were quite reluctant to do this in those days as they were forced, more often than not, to pay over the odds for a player. Quite different to the tribunal that sets fees for youth transfers today.

So, whereas today when a player signs a 5 year contract his value diminishes with each passing month in the ‘old days’ a player retained his value from the time he signed his contract right up until it expired. Two year contracts were the norm back then whereas five year contracts are the norm today. Clubs simply had no fear that they would lose a player once he was out of contract.

This begs the question, were players more loyal in the old days or just found a good employer and stayed with them?

So it is easy to see why a player has all the power today. Last summer when a couple of clubs were sniffing around Berahino and West Brom announced that they were holding out for  a £25m fee the player. This was a bold move baring in mind the player had less than 12 months left on his contract. Berahino himself let it be known he wouldn’t move clubs and instead would let his contract run down in order to move for free next summer.

Many of us could be forgiven for being confused as to why a fairly young footballer who is a highly thought of striker would waste a year of his short career in the reserves instead of trying to get his career back on track? Let’s be honest, it’s probably three years in total.

It seems this particular footballer thinks it’s all about the money, honey, and wants the big signing on fee that a free transfer would generate next summer. But at what price? How will he be thought of after all of this?

But back to Bosman, you’d be forgiven for thinking he is happy with the way football has gone since his landmark ruling but it appears not to be the case. Bosman feels that the ruling not only backfired on him but that the way it has been applied by clubs has led to the opposite of the egalitarian utopia he envisaged. That is partly because the European Court of Justice also outlawed Uefa rules capping the number of foreign players in a team, allowing the biggest clubs to harvest Europe’s best talent completely unencumbered.

Pre-Bosman football clubs had quotas for the number of EU players and player from outside the EU. It is the scrapping of this rule that is said to have sabotaged the England team because over 50% of Premier League players are foreign.

In an interview with The Telegraph in 2015 Bosman said “The big players, they have nice feasts and the smaller ones have only crumbs. For me, the Bosman ruling was about the distribution of money towards the smaller clubs. What we were seeing all of a sudden were big clubs growing bigger and all the money circulating between these clubs. Players again became like merchandise that was just traded.”

The irony of this situation is that the best players from his homeland – which at the time of the interview were number one in the Fifa rankings but are currently ranked four – being among the main beneficiaries of this is not lost on Bosman.

“All of these Belgian players who went to England, they are earning €300,000 per week, while in my case I’m not earning anything,” he says. “They could make a gesture because of all of the happiness I gave to tens of thousands of players.”

But isn’t that always the case? A small, mainly insignificant person taking on the establishment, winning and getting nothing out of it while other people go on to earn sh… shedloads?

Today, Bosman’s shameless guilt-tripping of his compatriots betrays his bitterness of his own situation in a world where others have reaped the rewards of his sacrifice. Claiming to have had the last of his state benefits withdrawn, he says: “I live in a small village of 9,000 people and 49 refugees and I’m the only one for whom they withdrew the right to receive this benefit.”

Bosman has two young sons to support from his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend, six-year-old Martin and four-year-old Samuel. “When they are 20, I would like them to be proud of their father,” he says when asked about his legacy, of which he is otherwise philosophical. “When you’re dead, you’re not reflecting anymore.”

Who knows what the transfer system would look like today if players like Rooney, Ronaldo (fat or CR7) could not hold their clubs to ransom over transfer fees and mega contracts.

Is it any wonder why most of the players before 1995 have had to take on a normal job when giving up the game. I’ve go no doubt Ian Wright isn’t short of a bob or two but I doubt he could life carefree on what he’s made and as for Gary Lineker (don’t get me started on him) I think it has been said if he had not go into TV and selling crisps he’d have ended up running the family fruit & veg stall in Leicester.

Finally, the transfer system. Back in the day if you requested a transfer you ‘only’ got a signing on fee but if a club sold you then you got a percentage of your fee. Today players demand a move and then demand a slice of the fee and then demand a signing on fee.

Maybe I am just jealous, but I don’t think I am. We all want to make a good living and get paid what we think we’re worth but what does that do for squad harmony? We’ve seen us get promoted with a tight knit squad high on team spirit only to have that start to erode away by players coming in on big contracts. It’s natural that other players will feel unhappy about it.

We are bordering on a mid-sized club and for us and other clubs of our size, the Stroke’s and West Brom’s of the world, it will be how to tread the fine line. Do we just sell on players who want big contract and then buy from lower leagues hoping to maintain out standing?

That will only get us so far and it can be his and miss. Clubs like Bournemouth have a much more difficult path to tread.

Who’d want to own a football club?

 

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