Football: Player in Bosman ruling in dire financial straits

Philippe Piat and Theo van Seggelen (right), President and Secretary General of FIFPro, speaking at a news conference in Brussels on Sept 18. FIFPro on Monday (Dec 14) marked the 20th anniversary of the Bosman Ruling by calling for another overhaul o
Philippe Piat and Theo van Seggelen (right), President and Secretary General of FIFPro, speaking at a news conference in Brussels on Sept 18. FIFPro on Monday (Dec 14) marked the 20th anniversary of the Bosman Ruling by calling for another overhaul of the transfer system. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS • Jean-Marc Bosman may have changed the face of football transfers forever but the Belgian has been left destitute after the system changed too late for him to take advantage.

The former player is known the world over for having challenged the previous regulations governing football transfers before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) voted to give those out of contract the freedom to join new clubs without their old team's permission.

"Nowadays, certain players earn tens of thousands of euros each week and me, I got nothing in return except for a few thank-yous," lamented the 51-year-old in an interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir. "Everyone made money, except me. Somewhere, the stars of football are flaunting my money!"

Back in 1990, Bosman, then 25, had wanted to leave RFC Liege in his homeland to join French outfit Dunkerque.

NO PAY-OFF

Nowadays, certain players earn tens of thousands of euros each week and me, I got nothing in return except for a few thank-yous.

JEAN-MARC BOSMAN

He was out of contract but Dunkerque refused to meet Liege's asking price and so the Belgians blocked his transfer.

As he was no longer a first-team player, Liege reduced his salary.

Bosman believed this was a breach of his rights, considering European football's governing body Uefa to be applying rules that contravened the free circulation of labour as was enshrined in European Union law.

He took his case to the ECJ.

The court ruled in favour of Bosman, but not until five years later, on Dec 15, 1995.

By then, his career was over, having played briefly in the French and Belgian lower leagues after securing his release from Liege.

Players who were out of contract could now leave their clubs without a transfer fee being paid, meaning the players themselves could also negotiate higher wages when switching teams.

However, 20 years on, Bosman is destitute while today's footballers become millionaires easily.

Still, he insisted he regrets nothing. "That day, footballers who had until then been commodities, became workers, free and in charge of their own destiny," he added.

He came away from the ECJ ruling with €400,000 (S$619,000) but that was blown on lawyers' fees, tax and poor investments.

He fell into depression and alcoholism and was even sentenced to a year in jail in 2013 for assaulting his former girlfriend and her daughter.

He remains out of work and does not get any social aid or even the dole. But, FIFPro, the International Federation of Professional Footballers, is said to be ready to come to his assistance and give him a job.

More than 300 delegates gathered in Amsterdam on Monday as FIFPro marked the 20-year anniversary of the Bosman Ruling by calling for another overhaul of the transfer system.

"It was a tough challenge but we prevailed," said Bosman in a FIFPro interview. "I am very satisfied, I did something that was good.

"They say the Bosman case was the (most important) legal case of the century in sport."

But FIFPro wants a further overhaul. In September, it filed a complaint with the European Commission against Fifa, claiming the current rules are "anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal".

FIFPro claims that transfer regulations "prevent clubs from fairly competing on the market" which in turn is "harming the interest of players, small-and medium-sized professional teams".

It notes that footballers do not enjoy the same rights as clubs to unilaterally end contracts, meaning the professional athletes do not have similar freedoms to other kinds of employees in relation to their employers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Player behind Bosman Ruling in financial straits'. Print Edition | Subscribe