It’s bizarre to think that the richest footballers in today’s game – the likes of Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Samir Nasri, Luka Modric et al – owe their fortunes to a moderately talented Belgian who spent just eight seasons in professional football before a five-year court battle backfired on him and ended his career.
The tale of Jean-Marc Bosman is a sad one. Interviewed by the Sun in March, Bosman, a recovering alcoholic, was living on benefits. The entire Belgian football system shunned him after his victory in a 1990-95 court case against RFC Liege which opened the door for him, and the other professionals of European football, to move freely between European Community clubs (across borders, if they wished) when their contracts expired. The irony was, though, that once the case began, even clubs in his own country were too afraid of Bosman’s new-found notoriety to offer him a contract. He ended up playing for free with Charleroi for free for two years just to stay fit, before retiring in 1993 – so never tasted the fruits of his own success.
In the fifteen years since the case was concluded in Bosman’s favour, players have moved from the position of ’employee’ to something more akin to freelance contractors. It is no longer a club’s decision when a player moves on; if their contract expires and the club doesn’t offer them terms they are impressed with, they’re off. The Premier League has seen power plays of that nature by Rooney, Nasri and Cesc Fabregas in the past year alone. It’s not only Premier League stars, though – Marouane Chamakh played exactly the same game with Bordeaux two years ago after they refused to sell him to Arsenal.
In Rooney’s case, stating a desire to leave has served as leverage in the negotiation of a new contract. Rooney’s case lasted a matter of weeks – in the aftermath of being left out of a trip to former club Everton last September, his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to sour rapidly until eventually Rooney stated his desire to the club to see out his contract and leave. A new offer of around £200,000-a-week was enough to change his mind.
Unfortunately, the legacy of the Bosman ruling is that players now have far more power than ever before in the game, and are not always using it with the morality fans would like to see from their idols. Fabregas and Nasri both used the Bosman rule to force their way out of the Emirates, knowing the club couldn’t afford to keep them for longer and risk losing them for nothing.
Modric’s is another baffling story. Just twelve months ago, the Croatian international signed an unusually long six-year contract at Tottenham, an obvious statement of commitment and loyalty to the cause. This summer, Chelsea decided they needed a little more creativity in midfield, and set their sights on Modric. Suddenly that six-year contract didn’t look too appealing, and Modric entered a tug-o-war between Chelsea and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. Levy held out, though, and, still a Spurs player and still with five years on his contract, Modric is now ready to negotiate a new, more lucrative deal.
Last night, though, Tevez took the idea of player power to a new level. The Argentine has endured a tumultuous relationship with Roberto Mancini since the Italian arrived at Manchester City in 2009, clashing over Mancini’s tactics and training methods while repeatedly begging for a transfer back to his native South America. A deal with Corinthians fell through this summer and now Tevez is stranded in Manchester for a fifth year – and he hasn’t taken the disappointment well.
Refusing to come on with about half an hour of last night’s Champions’ League game at Bayern Munich to play, Tevez sparked extraordinary scenes in the City dugout as players, coaches and the manager argued amongst themselves while those on the pitch, looking for leadership and guidance as Bayern ran rings around them, were left to their fate. A furious and obviously hurt Mancini stated bluntly after the game that Tevez will not play for him again and that he has had enough of taking dissent from his own camp.
Tevez is, in microcosm, an encapsulation of all the power players have muscled away from clubs in the past fifteen years. His mysterious agent, Kia Joorabchian, plucked him and Javier Mascherano from the Corinthians squad and landed them in, of all places, West Ham. His arrangement with Joorabchian robbed West Ham, then Manchester United, of his services, when it emerged that United had essentially signed Tevez on a two-year ‘loan’ from Joorabchian’s Media Sports Investment ownership company. A free-agent move to City followed. Now Tevez is once again trying to force a transfer, and almost ended up this summer at the very club he strong-armed his way out of five years ago.
In 2011, football is a completely different professional environment to what it was two decades ago. Jean-Marc Bosman is not to blame for what has followed from his victory, but football clubs and their fans are now ever more at the mercy of those they employ, and that seems a broken system. Whether there can be any way back remains to be seen.
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