The Movement of Football Players between Clubs

Are there any laws which relate to transfers of players between football clubs?

Often various Government agencies both within the UK and abroad are loathe to interfere in the operation and running of the rules set down by sporting governing bodies. There are however, certain situations where these rules set down by the sporting governing bodies are said to infringe laws and the rights of the people within that sport. When that is the case the governing bodies will have to change their regulations in order to fully comply with the law.

The Bosman case in 1995 was one such situation where the European Court of Justice felt it necessary to require the European governing body of football, UEFA, to amend its rules concerning the transfers of players between clubs.

What were the FIFA rules prior to the Bosman case?

Before the Bosman decision in 1995 a football player could only move between clubs where both clubs were in agreement to this. The way that this agreement would be reached was by the two clubs agreeing on a transfer fee to be paid by one club to gain the services on that player.

This requirement for a transfer fee applied regardless of whether the player was still under contract with the first club. Therefore even players who were out of contract with their club were unable to sign a contract with a new club until a transfer fee had been paid or they were granted a free transfer by the first club.

Furthermore prior to the decision in this case quota systems existed throughout European football meaning that only a limited number of players from outside the country which the team is based in could represent their club in European competition. This was limited to three foreign players and two assimilated players being able to represent their club in European Competition. This did however not apply to the domestic leagues.

The Bosman Situation

The Bosman case arose because of the situation where a European footballer’s contract had run out with his current club and wanted to sign with another club in another European Union Member State. The club that held his registration would not however, release him unless the second club paid a transfer fee which they were unwilling to do so.

The player argued that this contravened the right to free movement of workers laid down by Article 39 of the European Union Treaty.

Article 39 of the EU Treaty provides for the following rights:

The argument in the case was that the conduct preventing the player from moving clubs violated the above basic rights which are provided to all European Union citizens.

The decision of the court

The European Court of Justice found in favour of the player and had the following to say regarding the previous system of transfers in football:

  1. That transfer fees for out of contract players were illegal where a player is moving between one European Union Member State to another
  2. That the quota system imposed by UEFA was also illegal meaning that club sides are now able to play as many players from other European Union Member States.

Does this effectively rule out the need for transfer fees completely?

Since Bosman clubs are still required to pay transfer fees for players which are still under contract with another club.

What is the case in relation to restrictions on the number of foreign players from outside the EU?

Limits placed on clubs in relation to how many players from outside the European Union can play in European competition and domestic European Leagues can still be imposed as the free movement of workers is simply a European based rule.

What happens if a player is from another European country but one which is not a European Union Member State?

Ten years later following the Bosman case the European Court of Justice further qualified the ruling by adjudicating on a case concerning a Russian player plying his trade in Spain. The Court held citizens rights and those of sporting association from countries which have agreements with the European Union will be offered the same protection as those from European Union Member States.

The decision of the case was found due to the 1994 Agreement on Partnership and Co-operation between the EU and Russia.

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For more information on:

  • Has the decision in the Bosman case been a good thing?
  • Affect on Clubs
  • Affect on Players
  • If a player is under contract with a club can be break that contract in order to join another club?
  • Will the homegrown players rule set to be introduced by UEFA infringe Article 39 of the EC Treaty?