The Imminent Death of Football Transfer
Clubs forfeited the right to talk about loyalty decades ago
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