Of legalities and Jean-Marc Bosman

Jean-Marc Bosman

There are two landmark legal rulings in club soccer in terms of transfers. The first is the 1995 Bosman ruling. The second is the 2009 Matuzalém ruling.

The Bosman ruling, named after Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman, had two important effects. First, it banned restrictions of foreign European Union members within national leagues. That is, the English Premiership could no longer count players from EU nations as foreigners, for example. Second, it allows players to move to another club for free at the end of their contract. In other words, it was soccer’s Curt Flood decision. It was a victory for players in that they had more control over where they would play. A secondary consequence was the widespread practice of foreign (i.e. non-EU players) obtaining EU passports.

The Matuzalém ruling is slightly different. It builds on the Webster case, in which Scottish defender Andy Webster used new FIFA transfer rules to extricate himself from his contract with Hearts by paying the club was he was owed (estimated to be about £250,000). Matuzalém moved from Ukrainian club Shahktar to Spanish club Real Zaragoza in July 2007 using that ruling as his basis. Shahktar appealed to FIFA and was awarded €6.8 million. The club, understandably, felt that wasn’t enough for their captain and leading goal-scorer. So it appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The CAS, in its Matuzalém ruling, refined the Webster ruling and scaled back some of the player’s power to extricate himself from his contract. The new ruling takes into account the player’s importance to the team, his salary, and the timing of his departure in determining the compensation owed. In Matuzalém’s case, that compensation is €12 million.

This is a good ruling. It restores some of the balance to the transfer system. Players should have the right to move when their contract ends, of course, so the Bosman ruling is crucial. The Matuzalém ruling reigns in some of the threat to clubs imposed by the Webster ruling; it restores the balance, which is crucial. It also renders moot Sepp Blatter’s asinine comparison of professional soccer players to slaves. This is a good ruling that is good for the game, even if Real Zaragoza disagrees.

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