Here’s our chance to avoid Bos­man re­peat

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

IN 1917, physi­cist Ernest Rutherford be­came the world’s first true al­chemist when he split the atom in a lab­o­ra­tory in Manch­ester. Twenty-eight years later, an es­ti­mated 200,000 peo­ple had been va­por­ised at Hiroshima and Na­gasaki.

In 2003, Mark Zucker­berg wrote a com­puter pro­gramme called Face­mash that al­lowed Har­vard stu­dents to rate the at­trac­tive­ness of fel­low stu­dents.

Within a decade, Face­book was be­ing used by vic­tims buried by the Ja­panese tsunami to plead for res­cue and by rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies to top­ple dic­ta­tors in North Africa.

Un­known

That’s the thing with big ideas: no­body knows how they will spi­ral and con­tort, turn­ing an of­ten sim­ple in­ten­tion into some­thing far more spec­tac­u­lar – or sin­is­ter.

Which is why FIFPro’s at­tempt to out­law trans­fer fees must be stud­ied in mi­cro­scopic de­tail be­fore any­one leaps into the un­known.

Football has been down this road be­fore. Be­fore Jean-Marc Bos­man smashed the sys­tem in 1995, clubs had no obli­ga­tion to re­lease a player at the end of his con­tract. In the Bel­gian’s case, RFC Liege de­manded a pro­hib­i­tive fee AND re­duced his wages.

Bos­man rightly ar­gued this rep- re­sented re­straint of trade, and his vic­tory at the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice was hailed as a tri­umph of moder­nity. No longer could play­ers be held as in­den­tured labour­ers; no longer could Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tions im­pose re­stric­tions on the num­ber of ‘for­eign’ play­ers in a team.

Football had en­tered a brave new world.

Yet, ten years later, UEFA were back at EU HQ to dis­cuss where Bos­man had gone wrong.

How free agents had sent wages sky­wards, forc­ing clubs to the brink of ruin.

How the gap be­tween rich and poor had be­come a chasm. How clubs were turn­ing their backs on youth de­vel­op­ment, know­ing their best young play­ers could walk away for noth­ing.

Even to­day, none of these is­sues has been ad­e­quately re­solved. And, if FIFPro suc­ceed, they could get even worse.

FIFPro, the pro­fes­sional play­ers’ union, have filed a pe­ti­tion with the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion to abol­ish trans­fer fees, end the loan sys­tem and cap agents’ fees.

Ac­cord­ing to its pres­i­dent, Philippe Piat, vic­tory would pre­vent the big clubs from stock­pil­ing tal­ent (Chelsea have 33 play­ers out on loan) and al­low smaller clubs to sign bet­ter play­ers.

Shaun Har­vey, the Football League chair­man, ar­gues that lower league clubs would lose a ma­jor source of in­come and thus aban­don youth de­vel­op­ment. Who’s right? No­body knows.What the law­mak­ers need to find is a way of mak­ing Piat’s self­ish but Utopian vi­sion work with­out harm­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble. No trans­fer fees? Got to cap play­ers’ wages. No loans? Got to cap squad sizes.

As­sured

On one point, though, we can rest as­sured – end­ing fees won’t mean play­ers pitch­ing up here, there and ev­ery­where.

Foot­ballers are still hu­man be­ings.You or I could change job all the time if we wanted. But do we? Of course not.

We’ve got part­ners in jobs, chil­dren in school, friends and fam­ily close by.The vast ma­jor­ity of play- ers move be­cause they are un­wanted, not in search of a fast buck.

Be­sides, a con­tract is still a con­tract. Even within EU law, an em­ployer can in­sert a clause ban­ning you from work­ing for a com­peti­tor for, say, a year.

Ul­ti­mately, the play­ers shouldn’t be al­lowed to have it all their own way. It leads to ruin.

But, in­stead of dis­miss­ing their ac­tions as a craven cash­grab, the EU must seize this op­por­tu­nity to fix a sys­tem that has hit the lit­tle guy ever since Bos­man walked out of that court­room in 1995.

If that means an end to trans­fer fees, great. If not, find another way. But, for good­ness sake, con­sider the con­se­quences this time.

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