Transfer accord certain to face challenge, says Bosman lawyer

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Series Details Vol 7, No.10, 8.3.01, p5
Publication Date 08/03/2001
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Date: 08/03/01

By Peter Chapman

The lawyer who turned football on its head by winning the landmark Bosman case is predicting a rash of legal challenges to this week's accord between the European Commission and the sport's world governing body FIFA over a new transfer regime.

Under the deal unveiled last Monday it was agreed that there should be limited 'transfer windows' and four-month bans for players who walk out on clubs during the first two or three years of a contract.

Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said that clubs would still be able to charge transfer fees, which would either be written into a player's contract or based on a set of clear criteria such as length of time remaining on it.

Fees would be greater if a player left during the two or three year 'protected periods', and there would be special compensation for clubs losing young players under 23 that they had trained-up.

But Brussels lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, who won Belgian soccer player Jean-Marc Bosman's case in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 1995, claims events could still force FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Lennart Johansson to accept another change to the transfer rules in future.

"Nothing is immune from a legal challenge. It is quite sure that such a new set of rules will be challenged," said Dupont.

As expected, the European players' association FIFPRO, which was not at Monday's talks, attacked the deal. Its spokesman, Laurent Denis, warned that the body might ask the ECJ to overturn the ruling, which he described as "a black day for footballers and sport in Europe".

Dupont pointed out that the accord could be challenged in the court as early as next month over a case brought by Hungarian player Tibor Balog, whose career was put in limbo after the breakdown of a transfer between Charleroi in Belgium and Nancy in France.

"Perhaps they will find important elements that will force everyone to amend the agreement or consolidate the direction they took," said Dupont.

The lawyer said the key part of the deal was the way it would extend the Bosman ruling, which allows EU-based players to switch clubs without a fee at the end of their contracts, into a global regime.

"That is the revolution," Dupont said. "Now FIFA says any Brazilian player over 23 at the end of his contract is free to come to Europe whenever he chooses."

The new transfer regime is designed to bring football into line with EU rules on free movement of workers. Employment Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou and Culture chief Viviane Reding joined Monti and the soccer chiefs to help 'sell it' to a far-from-convinced audience.

Many involved with the game, echoing Dupont's warnings, believe that the full consequences of the accord have not been properly explored.

Andy Williamson, director of competition at the English Football League, said the part of the deal designed to compensate clubs that train young players could in practice discriminate against smaller clubs that invested large sums in youth development.

Under the terms of the deal, clubs would be paid a 'flat rate' which would diminish according to their relative position in four categories ranging from top-flight to lower-league and amateur.

Williamson said this could punish some clubs, including second division teams Peterborough and Reading, which have invested heavily to create youth academies given the same status in England as those operated by Arsenal or Manchester United.

"What is not clear is how much less these clubs would get. For example, if it were 25% less then we would have a problem," he said.

A similar situation exists at clubs across Europe's leagues and many experts believe the accord could unravel under close scrutiny of the detail.

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