Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Player rights in European Football (Soccer) explained by David Richardson

Players gained more control over their careers following the "Bosman Ruling", explained below:

Prior to the Bosman ruling, things worked as follows, in England (not the UK). A player signed a contract for a team, who are registered with the FA (Football Association). Football teams of all standards are registered with the FA, from the top flight to village teams. Once a player signs a contract with an FA registered team, the FA registration for that player, belonged to that team.

If the team did not want the player any more (for whatever reason) then a transfer fee was agreed between the team that wanted to get rid of the player, and the team that wanted to gain him. This transfer fee was to pay for the players' FA registration. The transfer fee was applicable even if the player was out of contract with his current team.

On the face of it, this appears to fit the description of a restrictive trade practice, but...

If the player wishes to leave his current team (particularly if his employment contract is finished) then he requests to be transfer listed (ie. available to other teams). Any other team that wants his services now has to agree a transfer fee with his existing team. Importantly, if no agreement is reached then, as long as the player wants to go to the new team, then the amount of the transfer fee is sent to arbitration, and the player *must* be allowed to move.

Whilst not perfect, this situation is much better than the draft (from the point of view of not allowing restrictive working practices).

However, the final part of the formula did not hold true in Belgium. Jean-Marc Bosman, a belgian midfielder (I believe) had finished his employment contract with his team, and wanted to move. However, the team that he wanted to leave could not agree terms with the team he wanted to move to. With no enforcement of arbitration, as in the english system, Bosman was stuck, and not allowed to leave his club. Similarly, he would not sign a contract with his existing club.

He therefore took the case to court, easily proving restraint of trade. As belgium is a part of the EU (European Union), all football (and other sports) leagues within the EU were forced to apply the Bosman rule, which is that a player may leave his existing club when his contract expires, with no transfer fee payable. However, if a player is under contract, but requests to leave, he must be transfer listed as explained above.

This is still not an ideal situation, but the players (and the players union) are a lot happier with it. The only real effect within English football has been to allow free transfers, and the idea of trading players a year before their contracts are up in order to gain some money from their investment.