The Bosman Ruling – Football’s Landmark Moment

The Royal Belgian Football Association v Jean-Marc Bosman (1995) ( also known as the Bosman ruling) is a 1995 European Court of Justice decision concerning freedom of movement for wokers and association and direct effect of article 39. The case was an important decision on the free movement of labour and had a profound effect on the transfers of footballers, and by extension players of other professional sports.

Bosman’s Fight

In 1990, a 25-year-old Belgian midfielder Jean-Marc Bosman was coming to the end of his contract at Belgian side RFC Liege. His two-year stint had not worked out as he had first hoped, and he was offered an improved contract by French second division side Dunkirk. Before the Bosman ruling, a player could not leave at the end of their deal unless the parent club agreed to let him go on a free, or that club received a pre-agreed fee from a buying club. Liege demanded a fee which Dunkirk was not agreeing to and when the deal fell through, Bosman’s wages at Liege were cut by around 75 per cent.

Bosman then started a legal fight alongside lawyers Luc Misson and Jean-Louis Dupont, and brought the case to the European Court of Justice against the Belgian Football Association, RFC Liege and UEFA, citing the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which guaranteed the freedom of movement for players anywhere in Europe. Bosman was banned by the Belgian FA for refusing to sign the cut-price contract offered by Liege and only had brief spells at Saint Quentin and Saint Denis in France, along with several other lower league clubs, but ultimately he prevailed. Now the players, instead of the clubs had the power which gave rise to the player’s agents having power as well.

Bosman’s Victory

The ruling allowed a player to leave a club on a free transfer as soon as his contract expired, meaning they had the leverage to demand a huge signing-on bonus and salaries from new clubs to make up for the absent transfer fee with the club. Players coming to the end of their contract could also ask for more money from their current club, who would naturally fear losing that player on a free if his demands were not met.

The Players that benefited

There are many high profile players who have benefited from this ruling like Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert(Ajax to AC Milan, 1996 and 1997), Steve McManaman (Liverpool to Real Madrid, 1999), Sol Campbell(Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal, 2001) and more recently Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund to Bayern, 2014), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan to Juventus, 2011) and Michael Ballack (Bayern to Chelsea, 2006).

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