Court of Justice

Just over 15 years ago on December 15th 1995, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg passed a ruling that would dramatically change European football. The ruling resolved a case that involved little known Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman who took on the Belgian Football Association (BFA), the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and his former Belgian club, R. F. C de Liege. Bosman would have never imagined the underlying consequences his five year struggle in court would have on the European transfer system.

The reason for forging this case began in 1990 when Bosman who was on the periphery of the first team was looking to leave his club, R. F. C de Liege. Bosman's i?? 120,000 contract had expired and Liege's offered Bosman a new contract that was only a quarter of Bosman's previous deal. Bosman was interested in joining French side Dunkirque but Liege were reluctant on letting Bosman leave for free. Liege demanded Dunkirque pay a transfer fee for Bosman's services which the French side accepted. A problem then became apparent when Liege suspended Bosman from playing until the club received the transfer fee from Dunkirque.

Liege believed Dunkirque could not pay the transfer fee and transfer rules at the time stated that, 'all commitments of a financial nature, including a transfer fee' needed to be finalised before a player performed for their new team. If these rules were not met a player could be suspended for up to two years virtually ruining their professional career. 1 Following what Bosman believed was an injustice on his own rights, he took legal action and the rest as you say is history. The European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Bosman and stated that players whose contracts had expired were allowed to leave their club for free.

Bosman's lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont, referred to Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome in justifying his client's case. 2 Article 48 dealt with the freedom of movement for workers and the ECJ believed current, 'transfer rules and UEFA nationality clauses were incompatible with Article 48. '3 The ECJ gave the following verdict in explaining its reasons behind the matter: 'Application of Article 48 of the Treaty is not precluded by the fact that the transfer rules govern the business relationships between the clubs rather than the employment relationships between clubs and players.

The fact that the employing clubs must pay fees on recruiting a player from another club affects the players' opportunities for finding employment and the terms under which such employment is offered. '4 Bosman believed the action he took was one that most players were afraid to challenge but was necessary considering players were deemed as properties solely owned by their club. 'I did something no other player dared do. I ended a system of slavery,' said Bosman. 5 It is incredible to think that before the Bosman ruling was passed; in many European countries a player could not leave his club even if his contract had expired.

All the club had to do was offer the player a contract with minimum wage and he had to stay at the club. If a club then wanted to buy the player they could either agree a fee for the player's services with that club or settle with UEFA making a ruling on the player's price. Only in cases involving contract expirations were UEFA allowed to make a decision involving the cost of a transfer fee. Depending on the age of the player and the costs associated with their yearly income, UEFA would then provide the interested club with a price that was necessary to purchase the player's services.

6 As a result of the Bosman ruling, players had now, 'acquired the power to demand and extract transfers in a way that would have been unthinkable before the lawsuit. '7 Players could now, 'make their own decisions about the trajectories of their careers. '8 Not only did the Bosman ruling have a large effect on player power but it also heavily affected player agents. Agents now had the power to persuade teams into their own demands if they wanted their client to sign on the dotted line.

This allowed agents to receive a substantial pay increase from large signing on fees and other loyalty clauses, considering clubs did not have to pay any transfer fee for the player's services. 9 One current English championship manager who believes 'the Bosman ruling is totally wrong' is, Ian Holloway. The Blackpool boss not only thinks that it gives agents and players too much power but that it also, 'breeds disloyalty. ' 'Say you have developed a player for four or five years and he runs out the contract. If you offer him the same contract at least you should hold his registration.

You should have the power, not the player,' said Holloway. 10 One football player who recently tested the Bosman ruling was Manchester United superstar, Wayne Rooney. Rooney had informed his manager Sir Alex Ferguson that he wanted to leave Manchester United. The timing of his request was strange, considering the club was not struggling competitively or financially. Here is one of the world's best football players wanting to leave one of the world's biggest and most successful clubs. It just did not make any sense. However, what did make sense was that Rooney only had a year left on his contract.

Suddenly he held the power over Manchester United. Yes, if he had 4 years left on his contract, they could just tell him to be quiet or go play for the reserves, but that was not the case. With only one year remaining, the ball was in Rooney's court and his agenda from the very beginning was quite obvious. Either Manchester United gave Rooney a substantial pay rise or their prized asset could either leave the club now for a nominal fee or let his contract run out and leave for nothing, when his true market value was astronomical.

Funnily enough Rooney did eventually sign a new contract and his wages were increased significantly. This incident is a perfect example highlighting how the Bosman ruling increased, 'financial pressures' on football clubs. 11 A football club now had to make a serious decision when a player entered the final year of his contract. The football club could either accept a player's demand for a wage increase or allow him to leave for free.