Bosman Rule – The Rule That Changed Football

It’s been 25 years since one court ruling change the football for good.

Have you ever heard about Jean-Marc Bosman? Maybe the name is not familiar but the surname might be. There is no transfer window in Europe without mentioning the “Bosman Rule“.

Bosman standing in front of the jerseys in the sports shop

He was rather unknown footballer, but what he did, changed the football completely. It changed it more than any other player, coach/manager did ever. This case on Belgium Court in the 1990s changed the football forever.

In December 15, 2020, it was 25 years since Bosman turn the football world upside-down with what will be later called the “Bosman Rule”. European Court of Justice brought the decision that enabled flow of work force (even footballers) within the European Union boundaries. With this decision, all the EU countries had to remove the limitation number of foreigners in the football clubs.

Today, 25 years later all the limitations are gone. However, some countries have the limitation number of non-EU players. Europe is packed with the international players and even though it is very hard to get the work permit in England Premier league (which I wrote in one of the previous articles regarding the impact of Brexit on football market), this is the league with the highest number of foreign players in the clubs.

With this, it is not hard to figure the reason why England do almost nothing in the World Cups or European Championships. It is not only that the Premier League is financially the most superior league but it is also the most attractive league. There are 367 foreigners in the Premier League, which is 67% of the total number of the player in the league which gives the rough number that the every third player in Premier League is English.

So, what happened and why it is called the Bosman Rule

Well, in the 1990 Bosman’s contract with the FC Liege expired so he was in search for another club. Dunkirk from France showed interest in Bosman and he was prepared to go there and continue his career. So, in order to prevent Bosman for leaving, FC Liege increased his value high. The price was set to today’s 600,000EUR which Dunkirk did not have to pay, so the transfer failed.

Before the “Bosman Rule”, the players could switch clubs with the agreement of both clubs, which is the case today as well. But before introducing the rule, the clubs had to agree even when the player’s contract were no longer valid. As I wrote already, there were limitations when it comes to the number of foreigners in the club.

Bosman’s contract expired in 1990 with Liege but they did not allowed him to leave. They decreased his salary while he was injured, and force him to play with the reserves and even with the youth team. So, he decided to search for the justice in front of the European Court of Justice claiming that as a European citizen, he have the right to move freely in pursuit of employment. He propose the change of transfer system where players would be able to leave the club for the certain compensation after their contract expire. The court brought the decision on December 15, 1995 in favor of Jean-Marc Bosman. Two major decisions were made:

  • It became illegal to change the price for the player who go from one to another club within EU boundaries and whose contracts have expired.
  • “Quota System” related to the number of foreigners in the club is completely removed which allowes clubs to bring as many players as they need.

Since this date, the modern football changed forever

After the confirmation of “Bosman Rule” by the Court, division of power between the clubs and the players changed drastically in favor of players. Now when the player can leave the club after the contract expired brought to the situation where players offer richer contracts in order to keep the players. This is not so good because the amounts go higher and higher with every season.

The “Bosman Rule” affected the small clubs as well. As the clubs in lower leagues have less money, it is hard for them to keep the good players. By this, the rich clubs can take their future prospects for rather small amounts. This can be easily noticed, it is rare to see the clubs from Eastern Europe in UEFA Champions League or Europa League coming to the end of the competition. As a reminder, before 1995, Red Star Belgrade from Serbia (Yugoslavia back than), and Steaua Bucuresti from Romania won the European Champions League (European Cup back then).

Managers search for the players with expiring contracts in order not to burden the clubs’ budgets. However, in this case, the players are most likely to ask for the higher salary having in mind that the transfer will be without fee.

Although it is widely considered that the “Bosman Rule” had negative impact on the football, there are some of the cases where this rule came in handy for certain clubs. I will just mention Sol Campbell that moved from Tottenham to Arsenal (local rivals). This move was one of the successful ones, since Campbell was part of the generation of “Invincible“.

What happened to Bosman?

He managed to make the footballers a millionaires while he became quite the opposite. Neglected his football career because while in the prime playing years, he devoted himself to the pursuit of legal justice. He became unhappy, depressive, without the luxury, had alcohol issues and so on. He fought to change the football and ended up fighting with the alcohol issues.

Bosman started t-shirt line with the sign “Bosman Rule” but managed to sell only one, to his lawyer’s son. For his fight, he said: “I do not wish that everything I did was in vain. It makes me happy that the players make so much money. There is not jealousy here. I sacrificed my own career in order that European players do not become the slaves. I would just like that I am given credits for it. One of the rare players that is aware of this man’s sacrifice was Adrien Rabiot. After moving from PSG to Juventus, he sent 12,00oEUR to Bosman as a sign of appreciation for his fight.

Bosman did get the compensation after the court ruling. He received 600,000EUR but as he said, the majority went to his lawyer and small house that he purchased. Up until then, he lived in his his parents’ house.

Everyone knows about the “Bosman Rule”, but rarely anyone knows about the man behind the rule. The man who gave everything, and became alcoholic in the end. He maybe ruined his life, but Bosman gave his contribution that the players are respected and paid well. Even over-paid. For this, his fight deserves to be remembered, at least his full name deserves to be remembered – Jean-Marc Bosman.

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