|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||14/12/95, Volume 1, Number 13|
A BELGIAN footballer will take on the sports establishment tomorrow (15 December) in the last round of a legal battle which threatens to rewrite European football's rule book.
Jean-Marc Bosman has already won celebrity status, not for outstanding foot work on the field, but for challenging soccer's multi-million-ecu transfer fee system and a rule which limits the number of foreign players clubs can field.
The case raises serious doubts about the future of small football clubs which traditionally have survived by breeding young players for sale to big clubs.
Bosman claims that both the transfer fee and the foreigners rule restrict players' rights to move freely within the Union and so break EU law, a claim which was upheld earlier this year by Carl Otto Lenz, an advocate-general at the European Court of Justice.
In an opinion running to over 100 pages, Lenz said that the rules which tie players to their clubs and restrict the number of foreign players on a team were illegal.
His advice, if followed by the full Court, would prevent clubs from counting players as assets who can be sold on for appropriate transfer fees once their contracts have expired.
Players would become free agents, allowed to negotiate contracts for themselves and pocket the transfer fees.
Lenz also said that limits on the number of foreign players allowed in teams, which were introduced to prevent rich clubs from buying up all the best players, amount to “discrimination by reasons of nationality”.
His opinion was delivered some months ago amid apocalyptic predictions about the impact of such a ruling on European football.
Just hours after it was made public, small clubs were delivering dismal warnings about the imminent bankruptcy of lower division clubs and the bleak future awaiting young players.
They predicted the emergence of clubs comprised exclusively of international sports stars and a huge escalation in wages among leading players, as the transfer market toppled.
Others, however, were more sanguine, forecasting a new balance in the market as saved transfer fees were ploughed back into clubs.
Either way, massive changes to the financial structure of Europe's soccer business are in store if the Court finds in favour of Bosman.
The Belgian midfielder sacrificed his football career by taking the Belgian club FC Liège to court for effectively blocking his transfer to French club Dunkerque in 1991. Despite the fact that Liège had cut his wages by three-quarters after his two-year contract expired, the club sabotaged his chances of moving on by charging a transfer fee which was out of Dunkerque's reach. After he took his case to the national courts, Bosman was blacklisted by Belgian clubs.
Lawyers representing the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) have argued that football should be exempted from the Rome Treaty rules on free movement of people. But their chances of being heard are slim.
A victory for Bosman is likely, according to court sources who say it would be extremely unusual for the judges to go against the advocate-general's advice in such a high-profile case.
If Lenz' opinion is upheld, however, European soccer is expected to be given a transitional period of up to five years to develop regulations in line with the law.
Bosman's lawyers are expected to seek 780,000 ecu of compensation from both his old club and UEFA if he wins.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry, Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Belgium|