• Saturday, June 25, 2022


How the Bosman ruling changed the football transfer market

By: Eastern Eye Staff

There have been many transfers that have raised eyebrows, caused controversies and changed the footballing landscape. From Luis Figo swapping Barcelona for arch-rivals Real Madrid in 2000, to Sol Campbell moving across London a year later, or the confusion around players such as John Obi Mikel. But one of the most impactful moves remains that of the otherwise little-known Jean-Marc Bosman in 1990.

The deal didn’t command any of the money we’re used to seeing in today’s transfer windows, in which it’s become common for clubs to break the €100m fee mark. Instead, Bosman’s escape from his contract only came following an arduous legal battle, the result of which is seen to have ushered in the age of player power.

Who is Jean-Marc Bosman?

Bosman was a capable if not captivating player who played in an attacking midfield role for Belgium at youth level, as well as Standard Liege in its domestic league.

He joined Royal FC Liege in the late 1980s, but his career stalled, and after two unproductive years he entered a now-famous legal standoff.

His legal battle summarised

Bosman’s contract was up in 1990, but the law back then dictated that a transfer fee still had to be exchanged between the parent club and any potential suitor. Unfortunately for Bosman, that meant RFC Liege could hold out for as much as they wanted, leaving Bosman in limbo when the French side Dunkirk were priced out of the running.

RFC Liege offered Bosman a new, lesser deal, which he refused to sign. He eventually took his case to the European Court of Justice, citing that he was being denied freedom of movement as an EU citizen. Five years later, with Bosman’s career all but over, the court ruled in his favour, allowing him to move on without any money changing hands.

Lasting impacts on the transfer market

The Bosman ruling is a term that both today’s international legal experts and casual football fans are familiar with. Now, when a player moves for a ‘free’ transfer at the end of the contract, the savings made on the fee are often built into the player’s signing-on fee and inflated wages.

Football clubs may also consider offering higher wages to prevent players exercising their right to move for free, putting further power in players’ hands. Football agents are well aware of this dynamic, and often score themselves a cut of the deal too.

In many ways, the Bosman ruling has helped create the extreme financial divides we see in the game today, with the biggest clubs able to offer the biggest wages and snare the game’s best players. Interestingly, the ruling also eliminated squad limitations around foreign EU players in European competitions such as the Champions League.

Now you know the story, how many times do you think we’ll hear the phrase Bosman ruling uttered during this summer’s transfer window?

Eastern Eye

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