In 1995, a little known midfielder from Belgium called Jean-Marc Bosman went to the European Court of Justice to help him move from Club de Liege to Dunkerque, that triggered a change in the law that changed football forever and a change that Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton claims has killed Scottish Football.
Before the Bosman ruling, a player could not leave the his club until they had agreed to let him go. After Bosman though, the power shifted from the clubs to the players and they were now free to leave as soon as their contract had expired.
Hutton said: “What killed Scottish football frankly, was the Bosman ruling. Because a club like Raith Rovers, we used to sell a couple of players every year, whether they were youngsters or whatever else, we could sell a couple of players a year and that selling a couple of players made up any losses that we had.”
The Bosman ruling gave players the power to demand huge signing-on fees and salaries, given that the club that wanted to sign them did not have to pay a penny in transfer fees. While players under contract could ask for bigger and better deals to stay on at the club, threatening to leave at the end of their contract for free if their demands were not met.
Hutton added: “Bosman comes along and nobody is going to give out long-term contracts and players are free to walk. The transfer window comes along so if your cashflow goes tits up in November, whereas before you could sell your best striker to your biggest rivals to sort your cashflow out, you cannot do that now. There’s no money in Scottish football for say Hearts to come along and buy somebody from Raith Rovers, they’re going to wait for six months and pick them up for nothing.”
Along with the freedom to leave clubs at the end of their contracts, the Bosman ruling also ripped up the limitations in the number of foreign players that clubs could sign – resulting in Scottish youngsters seeing their chances of breaking through into their club’s first team disappear in favour of foreign talent.
Agents also became more powerful, picking up frees from clubs for bringing a free player to them and taking their cut of the signing on fee and bonuses that were demanded by them for their clients – the players.
All these increased costs were then passed down to the fans for the most part, as the clubs looked to boost the money they brought in – the main price hike being ticket prices.
On the transfer window, Hutton continued: “I think the transfer window, if you’re operating in the Bundesliga or the English Premiership and you’re looking at that from a UEFA point of view, there’s maybe merit in it. But was there the case that some of the…. was it the Conference, are they involved in the transfer window? Can they not transfer players whenever?
“There was something about the English Conference, certainly a few years back, that they were out with the transfer window rules and regulations. Now if they are out of it then Scottish football, should they be involved either? How can you….If the Inland Revenue are coming down hard on non-payment of PAYE, or whatever, if you’ve no income coming in, if it’s a bad winter and you’ve got games that are cancelled, you’ve got no income. How can you pay your PAYE or pay players? That’s the time when you would want to offload somebody to help with your cashflow.”
Hutton was referring to the ruling in the English game, which did mention the English Conference but that the transfer window did not apply to clubs playing below that league. Certainly not a level comparable to the Scottish game – some would argue.
The Raith Rovers chairman is not alone in wanting the transfer window scrapped, Steve Coppell, former Reading manager along with others in the English game have called for the transfer window to be scrapped and the re-introduction of the previous system, where deals could be struck throughout the season up until the closing weeks of the season.
Speaking in 2008, Coppell said: “I cannot see the logic in a transfer window. It brings on a fire-sale mentality, causes unrest via the media and means clubs buy too many players. The old system, where if you had a problem you could look at loans or make a short-term purchase, was far better than this system we have at the moment.”
Former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson also questioned the value of it, commenting: “You do wonder at times if it is right to have a window, it was easier when it was open all the time and perhaps fairer for the players. I am sure much of the business being done on the last day is a little bit desperate and that is not right. I think it was better before, but then I am old.”
After having his 15 minutes of fame and changing the face of European football forever, Bosman battled against depression and alcoholism. While footballers today command wages up to hundreds of thousands of pounds, Bosman ended up broke after losing his money on ill-judged business deals, he ended up on benefits and was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and handed a suspended sentence of one year and fined.
So should the transfer window be scrapped? Should we return to the old transfer system?