So it seems Wayne Rooney wants out at Manchester United. What happens next? Would Alex Ferguson really be prepared to move Rooney onto their rivals City (even for a purported £60 million?) Would Wayne be willing to move abroad and play for the likes of Real Madrid? Let’s consider another option. If he chose to utilise “The Webster Ruling” this summer, Rooney could terminate his own contract leaving him a free agent. All this would cost him is £5 million – a hefty sum even for Wayne, but by no means unaffordable. This would leave Wayne free to negotiate with rich teams like City for whom Rooney would be an infinitely more attractive prospect now that they wouldn’t have to pay a substantial transfer fee for his signature. It would have a devastating effect on Manchester United who have been nurturing Rooney ever since they shelled out £28 million for him six years ago.
There was a time in the not so distant past wherein the power remained with the club, not the player. Those times are very much coming to an end. This change was prompted by Jean Marc-Bosman who was able to successfully challenge the restrictions on the freedom of movement for footballers back in 1995. Prior to this players were in some respects “owned” by their clubs. It was the efforts of Bosman who ensured that when player’s contracts come to an end they are able to move onto another club on the basis of a free transfer.
The Webster Ruling is a whole different kettle of fish that is sure to grant the player even more power over their club. The ruling stipulates that players are able to walk away from their contract, no matter what its length is after a specified time period has been met and if the player is able to buy out the remainder of his contract. We’re treading new ground here with the Webster ruling so it’s still relatively uncertain what would happen were Wayne Rooney to attempt to buy out the remainder of his contract. You can presume that Manchester United would sue for breach of contract, but it’s likely the court would side with the player (as was the case for Andy Webster, from whom this ruling gets its name).
The consequences of a wide-scale implementation of the Webster Ruling would be drastic. One consequence would be a decrease in the number of ‘record-breaking’ transfers we see, as clubs begin to seek out more and more players who can join them on the basis of a free transfer. This would have a further effect of increasing the players negotiating ability which could see players receiving obscenely large amounts of cash from their club on a weekly basis. I understand that this is a delicate issue, as must be the case when detailing the freedom of movement for individual human beings, but you can’t help but feel that the ruling is a bad thing for football in general. Professional football is worlds away from any other area of employment. Don’t players sacrifice their own freedom to move when they commit to a certain time period and accept a set amount of money in return for their services? The Webster Ruling appears to be just another way of accelerating the culture of greed that is already embedded so deeply within the footballing world.
If you’re interested and want to hear more feel free to follow me on Twitter.