There have been instances where the European Commission has become involved in issues surrounding the football transfer window – most notably the mid-90s decision in the Bosman case. That case concerned the free movement of labour and the transfers of footballers within the European Union.
FIFA Regulations for Transfers
Following the Bosman case, the FIFA Regulations for Status and Transfer of players were established, one important focus being in relation to younger players – with the outlawing of international transfers for players under 18, and the payment of training compensation to teams losing players under the age of 24.
Another significant aspect of the FIFA Regulations was the introduction of two transfer windows during one season.
What are the football transfer windows?
During a European football season (running from the end of August until May the following year) there are two windows in which a team can buy and sell players. The first of these windows runs throughout the ‘off’ season, ending at the end of August. The second of these windows is the whole of January.
What is the reason for two distinct transfer windows?
The aim of transfer windows is to prevent certain teams having an unfair advantage as they have more money than other teams to buy a player at any stage of the football season. For example, before the introduction of the transfer windows the so called big clubs were able to splash the cash after only a few poor results. The smaller clubs simply didn’t have the means to do this and so were considered to be at an unfair disadvantage, creating a distortion in the competition.
Would preventing players moving during the transfer window amount to restraint of trade?
It could be regarded as a restraint of trade because players are restrained by the rules and regulations of the profession.
Could it restrict the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by European Union law?
One of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the EU is the right to free movement of workers. The rule regarding the transfer window does, on the face of it, appear to contravene this rule. In the Bosman case, the key issue was that a player no longer under contract with his club could not move without a transfer fee – this was seen to be in contravention of the EC Treaty as it restricted the free movement of workers. By the same token, preventing players from being sold during the periods when the transfer window is closed clearly prevents them from moving freely.
However, the European Commission takes the view that in some cases, there can be good sporting reasons to justify some kind of economic restrictions, particularly for the benefits of team stability and regularity of sporting competition. In the Bosman case there was no good sporting reasons to limit the movement of players, but there is in the case of the transfer window.
How do clubs prepare for the transfer window?
Football clubs must pre-plan if they want to strengthen their squad at designated times. Clubs with significant resources are more likely to purchase more players during the transfer window to prepare for any possible eventualities during the season while the window is closed (such as injury to key players). This has meant that the potential transfer fees have increased.
Unfortunately, this means the smaller clubs do not have the resources to strengthen their squads in the same way, so if a key player is injured, they will often struggle with a smaller squad.
How can the sale of players protect clubs from going insolvent?
There are, however, advantages of these transfer windows to the smaller clubs. One of the biggest assets a smaller football club may have is a hugely talented player they have nurtured, which they can then sell onto a bigger club making a large profit for themselves. In many cases, this is the primary means by which clubs are able to stay afloat and avoid going into administration. Without the potential to sell their assets immediately in the threat of administration, there would be a greater potential for struggling clubs to bust (as may have happened prior to the adoption of the transfer window).
Is there any potential for reform?
From time to time, FIFA amends the transfer Regulations. In 2016, for instance, FIFA inserted rules to the effect that players must resume duty with their clubs no later than 24 hours after the end of the period for which they had to be released; or 48 hours if the national team’s activities took place in a different confederation to the one in which the player’s club is registered.
There are many arguments for and against the football transfer window, but FIFA is maintaining the status quo for now.