Time to challenge the hold they have over transfers?

Jean-Louis Dupont, the lawyer that helped Jean-Marc Bosman change the laws regarding player opportunities at the end of their contract, has argued that the Premier League rules about third-party ownership of players are not legal. The laws, whilst legal in other countries, state that third party ownership is not allowed in England with Premier League spokesmen saying that they want to protect the integrity of the Premier League and avoid the problems faced by South American clubs. But is it time this rule was challenged?

High transfer prices

One of the main benefits of abandoning the rule would be in a transfer market with such inflated prices it would be easier for clubs with less money to buy players. For example if they were to buy a player that was half owned by a third party then they may only have to pay half of the transfer fee as the third party may be happy for their player to change clubs without selling their stake.

Therefore if player ‘x’ was valued at £20m then a club may only have to pay £10m for him. Clubs such as Everton, who are finding it hard to find the funds to buy players, are particularly likely to benefit from this. Alternatively If they wanted to buy a player that was fully owned by a club then they might be able to persuade a third party to invest part or half of the money into the transfer, therefore alleviating the burden of the entire transfer fee. In this way Dupont has posed the question: what is the difference between the club using a third part owner to help them and a club going to the bank for a loan? This has greatly helped clubs in the Portuguese leagues where money is limited and indeed several of the top clubs make use of this system.

Dupont says the he is “not convinced that restrictions to that business are legitimate,” and said that he believed any challenge to the law would have a “very very good chance” of succeeding.

Negatives

However, there would obviously be downsides to any alteration or abandonment of the law. With outside companies owning stakes in players then millions of pounds are being taken out of a football industry in which the majority of clubs are already short of cash. Whilst teams with small buying power will be able to use these companies to supplement their spending power they will also receive little profit when the player is sold. People might say that this doesn’t matter but ultimately money is being given from one football club (the buyer) to a company that is not certain to reinvest that money back into football therefore depriving the industry of money put in by fans.

Moreover, there are negatives for the layers themselves too. David Dein, former chief executive of Arsenal likened the third-party ownership system to slavery saying that the players get even less say in where they play. Plus whilst players fully owned by clubs might have contracts to see out players owned by companies are not limited to contracts, they are owned beyond the length of their contracts at a club.

Another problem with the system is the anonymity of the third parties that own the players. A player could be, unknown to the public, part owned by the owner of a rival club to that which the player s employed by. Therefore there would be the possibility of that owner influencing the performance of his player against the club he owns

Compromise

In the end it may not be up to the Premier League to decide whether we continue with the current rules or not. If Dupont, or any other lawyer, decides to take it to court it could go above the heads of those controlling the English game; but whichever way we end up going certain decisions need to be made. If we are to choose, or are forced to accept, third-party ownership then we must ensure that there can be no anonymity amongst those owning stakes in players, and there must be rules preventing club owners, or those involved in clubs, from taking part in part-owning players.

If we refuse to change our current laws then two things must happen: the Premier League must find a way to help clubs like Everton, who have little spending power, to find ways to either compete or diminish the spending power of the top clubs. Secondly we must ensure that punishment for breaking these rules is consistent. Neil Warnock has been on both the beneficial and detrimental side of the third-party rules. Tevez’s Old Trafford goal sent his side down in 2007 but just last season QPR were aided in their promotion by Alejandro Faurlin, their central midfielder who was part owned by a third party. Both players made the difference between Premier League and Championship participation for their rivals yet the fines were completely different. And, unsurprisingly, Warnock could see no hypocrisy in the matter. Whatever decision is made we need to ensure that modifications are made to the chosen system, for neither of them are right.

Follow Hamish on Twitter @H_Mackay