Here’s our chance to avoid Bosman repeat
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.
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.
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.