The Im­mi­nent Death of Foot­ball Trans­fer

Clubs for­feited the right to talk about loy­alty decades ago

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Dileep Premachan­dran

Af­ter his play­ing days, the most in­flu­en­tial foot­baller of our age de­cided to go into busi­ness. He ended up sell­ing pre­cisely one ‘Who’s the Boz’ T-shirt, to his lawyer’s son. He had to sell his Porsche Car­rera, and spent time in jail af­ter be­ing con­victed of as­sault. For JeanMarc Bos­man, much of the last two decades passed by in a blur of al­co­holism, anger and bank­ruptcy. But with­out the man who won 20 youth caps for Bel­gium in the early 1980s, the foot­ball land­scape would be so very dif­fer­ent. It was in De­cem­ber 1995 that a Euro­pean Union court ruled that play­ers could walk away at the end of a con­tract, with their clubs not el­i­gi­ble for any com­pen­sa­tion. It also banned any limit on the num­ber of Euro­pean Union play­ers a team could field. Bos­man, as his sub­se­quent tra­vails have shown, didn’t re­ally ben­e­fit from the ver­dict which was handed down when he was 31, but thousands of oth­ers have cashed in.

Now, foot­ball finds it­self at an­other cross­roads. The Bos­man rul­ing gave the play­ers some de­gree of free­dom, but the events of this summer have clearly il­lus­trated just how much the dice are loaded in favour of the clubs. It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore some­one else does a Bos­man, and ap­proaches the courts about­ther­e­straint-of-trade­prac­tices­that­keep play­ers at clubs when they want to move on.

The old con­tracts-should-be-sa­cred line was re­dun­dant years ago. It’s ab­surd that we hold foot­ballers to a greater moral stan­dard than the rest of so­ci­ety. All em­ploy­ment con­tracts are sup­posed to be sacro­sanct. But when bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties ap­pear, al­most each of us moves on. And let’s be clear here. Em­ploy­ees are sel­dom the main cul­prits. Big or­gan­i­sa­tions and cor­po­ra­tions rou­tinely use ev­ery dirty trick in the book to try and deny em­ploy­ees their just dues. The cur­rent trans­fer win­dow in Europe has been a bit like snakes and lad­ders, with those at the bot­tom of the food chain left with only the slith­ery rep­tiles. Con­sider the ridicu­lous tableaux fea­tur­ing Southamp­ton, Liver­pool, Barcelona and Paris St. Ger­main. Vir­gil van Dijk, the Dutch de­fender built like the Colos­sus of Rhodes, joined Southamp­ton from Celtic in Septem­ber 2015. At the end of his first sea­son on Eng­land’s south coast, his orig­i­nal­five-yearcon­tract­wastor­nu­pandhe was­give­na­much-im­proved­six-yeardealand the club cap­taincy.

Now, af­ter a few months of Liver­pool and Jur­gen Klopp flut­ter­ing their lashes at him, van Dijk wants to leave. Southamp­ton would rather let him rot in the stands or in the re­serves than sell him to a team that have made a habit of cherry-pick­ing their best play­ers – AP Adam Lal­lana, De­jan Lovren and Sa­dio Mane – over the past few sea­sons.

Liver­pool also spent much of the summer in fu­tile pur­suit of Naby Keita, the Guinea in­ter­na­tion­al­who­playsforRBLeipzig­inGer­many. Keita too is on a long-term con­tract, but with a buy­out clause of 48 mil­lion pounds that kicks in­next summer, you can besuretha­tone ofthe world’smost­promis­ing­box-to-boxmid­field­ers will not be in east­ern Ger­many next au­tumn.

Even more cer­tain is the fact that Phillippe Coutinho will not be in Liver­pool colours much longer. Even if they man­age to hold on to him this sea­son, and it would be a huge blow to Klopp’s plans if they had to sell him just be­fore it be­gan, the Brazil­ian will be off to Spain, and Barcelona, next summer. For him and so many oth­ers who grew up watch­ing the ex­ploits of Ron­aldo (the orig­i­nal), Ronaldindo and Ri­valdo, that is the pin­na­cle. Be­sides, Barcelona now have a Ney­mar Ju­nior-sized hole in their ranks, af­ter PSG set aside the GDP of a small coun­try to sign him and take the next step in the Qatar gov­ern­ment’s big­gest van­ity project. Ney­mar too was un­der con­tract, as is Coutinho who signed vastly im­proved terms just a few months ago. The bot­tom line — and that’s a phrase most avari­cious clubs should un­der­stand — though is that play­ers are not serfs. And a con­tract isn’t worth the A4 it’s printed on if they want to leave. Look at how Le­ices­ter City sacked Clau­dio Ranieri months af­ter the most in­cred­i­ble ti­tle win in foot­ball his­tory, or how Real Madrid pulled the rug from un­der Vi­cente del Bosque af­ter he won the Cham­pi­ons League twice in three sea­sons. Clubs for­feited the right to talk about loy­alty decades ago. If van Dijk, Coutinho and Keita have glimpsed greener grass, they will even­tu­ally get to it. Even if it takes an­other Bos­man-type rul­ing to smooth the path.

A con­tract isn’t worth the A4 it’s printed on if play­ers want to leave

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