The landmark court ruling involving little-known footballer Jean Marc Bosman back in 1995 at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg is still being felt to this very day, but what exactly did it do for the game and what was it’s wider impact on the way that football is run?
The ruling itself stated that Bosman had been unlawfully barred from changing teams when his contract with R.F.C. Liège in the Belgian first division expired after the 1990 season. By coming to that decision, it essentially created freedom of movement laws for all professional footballers within the European Union, while also simultaneously knocking any sort of quota system that UEFA or the independent leagues tried to impose on its membership, such as the three foreign players per squad rule that was used back in Spain and Italy in the 1980s. It became clear, the power no longer resided with organisations or the clubs themselves, but the players.
It increased competitive balance and ensured that the game became something more than just what was traditionally concerned with a starting eleven and now the power of a squad with depth was vitally important.
The main criticism often levelled at the Bosman ruling it’s that while on the whole player power has risen, which has had an adverse effect on player and club relations in the past, that the power resides in the few and not the many that can afford to pay top wages to out of contract players.
That this then distorts the competition because it means that the few at the top get the best players on the cheap and has resulted in just 12 clubs winning Europe’s premier competition since its inception back in 1992 from just seven different countries. However, when you consider that Real Madrid won the old European Cup format five years on the trot between 1955-60 and that Ajax, Benfica, Bayern Munich, Inter, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Milan all managed to retain their trophy after they first won it, then it becomes clear that pwoer has always been centralised among the few rather than the many.
The Bosman ruling has seen several leagues such as the ones in England, Spain, Italy and most recently the resurgent Bundesliga in Germany become Super Leagues in a way and without a generational glitch in terms of an influx in talents, the smaller European leagues now no longer prosper in quite the same way when mixing it with the big boys. There’s unlikely to ever be another Red Star Belgrade nor a Steaua Burcharest.
Prior to the rule, a player could only ever move clubs if the one that had ownership over his signature agreed a fee with the prospective interested party. As such, dictatorships, presidents and club officials prevented Eusebio from ever leaving Portugal and Pele in his peak from leaving Brazil.
It’s also had an impact further down the leagues where money is tigheter. With player power rife, clubs higher up the ladder will always sign their key players to lucrative long-term deals to keep them right where they are, but all across Europe, this revolving door policy can often be more of a hindrance than it is a help and it’s hardly condusive to a settled side which often breeds success. It’s now near enough impossible to rise through the leagues and then go on to have a huge impact in the top division like it was in the past, and money plays a much bigger part these days than it ever did prior to 1995.
There’s also the consideration that while players like Sol Campbell, Edgard Davids, Gary McAllister and David Beckham have proved to be bargain signings simply because no transfer fee has ever had to be paid, it also offers clubs more freedom in their transfer dealings, no longer shackled by the pressure of a players fee and the debate over whether they may flop.
The obvious downsides of the ruling is that it’s created the millionaire culture which football has gone on to indulge today, making the selected few clubs richer while also protecting the egos of the industry. This mollycoddling has meant that football has increasingly moved away as the pasttime of the masses, and become more of an entertainment outlet worldwide than a purely sporting vehichle.
At the same time, though, in no other industry of profession is loyalty demanded so quickly as it is in football. They have just as much right to move freely between jobs and pick where their futures lie just as much as a plumber or secretary does. The fall-out may be hard to bear for some, even overhwlemingly negative for others, but in the modern day, it’s a necessity.
Has the Bosman ruling been good or bad for the game on the whole? Name your favourite Bosman dealing below.
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