The current system is unfair
By Tim Lattimer
No doubting the big story of last week in football : the Bosman case, which'll change football as we know it. The small clubs will no longer be able to survive, the lower divisions will be regionalised, and, according to one PFA official, 75% of footballers will be out of a job. Sound familiar? Didn't they say the same about the formation of the Premier League? And all-seater stadia? Live football on the telly? Seven figure transfer fees? Not to mention the abolition of the maximum wage, and no doubt when child labour was abolished there was some hack saying how many clubs would go to the wall. Yet here we are, 1995, and your Torquays, Halifaxes, and Lutons are still alive and ruining peoples' Saturday afternoons.
Of course the Bosman case is different: there's a European angle, so we can blame it all on a bunch of EC idiots who think that just because the Europeans can't organise a proper transfer system that gives them a right to mess up our system that's worked perfectly well for decades. Well, firstly although it is true to say the Bosman problem couldn't have happened here, it also couldn't have happened in most other European countries. All other European countries are not the same. France and Spain both already have freedom of contract, and it hasn't destroyed football in those countries.
What the Bosman case actually gives footballers is nothing more than what everyone else has. In many other trades companies give employees a fair bit of training or education, sometimes at great expense, but in all of them if you're out of contract and leave, the company have to lump it. When The Smiths signed up for a major record label did Rough Trade get a transfer fee? The lesson for clubs is this : if you develop a young player and you want him to stay at the club for longer than three years, say, then offer him a contract that's longer than three years. If you can't or won't make a longer term commitment then don't complain when he walks out when his contract's over.
But didn't we already have freedom of contract? No. The most recent example at Watford is Nogan. When his contract expired, he couldn't sign for any club that would pay him, he had to hang around for months waiting until someone would pay a quarter of a million pounds for him - a fee which meant Reading had to break their transfer record. Okay, he still got paid at his old rate while he was waiting, but if he'd had a career-threatening injury where would he be then? I don't see that we had any moral or legal right to stop him signing for any club that would pay his wages once his contract had ran out. A moral right to boil him alive in pig's fat and whip him naked through the streets of Watford, perhaps, but that's another issue.
So how are the smaller clubs going to make up for their loss? Well, as I see it there are several ways.
1. Offer young players longer contracts. Admittedly this will cost money, primarily when it means offering a Rod Thomas a 15 year contract on the premise of his England schoolboys form, and then finding that he hasn't made the grade. But presumably the wages could be made more appearance related, so when a player doesn't make it he'll want to go to another club or drop out of football. This would have the added benefit of encouraging clubs to make young players learn a trade outside football, so that there wouldn't be so many on the scrap heap who've spent their formative years trying to make it in football when they weren't cut out for it. Also clubs might be a bit more responsible to the young players - at the moment we have an extraordinary level of young players dropping out with injuries because they play so much competitive football.
2. Go part time. Not necessarily a disaster, since this would probably mean smaller leagues. In fact this could lead to more time for training as it does in some continental coutries. Again it would mean players would learn another trade. We may lose some players, but having to stack shelves didn't make Stan Collymore or Kevin Phillips give up football. If anything it makes them appreciate it more. Besides most of the best players get picked up by the bigger clubs at schoolboy level anyway. Next England game count the number of players that were picked up as schoolboys by 2nd or 3rd division clubs.
3. Redistribute the money another way. If the clubs really feel this is going to destroy football, and my feeling is they won't, they could organise another system. For example whenever an English player who's been brought up from the lower divisions makes the national team the FA awards the club a hefty fee in recognition. A smaller fee could be given for those that make the Premiership. The money would come from a fund set up by Premiership clubs with the money they save from transfer fees. This would have the advantage that the lower division clubs would look out for players with touch and skill, rather than the sort of donkey who'll do okay in division 2. Maybe with this system a club like Watford, say, wouldn't let go of a 13 year old like Warren Barton, say, on the grounds of his being too small.
4. Some kind of sponsorship of smaller clubs by bigger clubs. The least palatable option, whereby a team like Newcastle, say, pumps enough money into Darlington to keep them afloat (i.e. about one percent of their turnover) in return for all of Darlington's first born sons. Again the onus would be on Darlington to produce skilful youngsters. Okay they'd lose their independence, but it might produce a bit more local interest in the sponsored club.
So next time you hear Sam Hamman, Jimmy Hill or any other chairman giving his opinion, bear in mind what his interests are. Of course they like the current system, it basically means the contract only commits one party. The club can't lose : if the player doesn't make it, they've no obligations, and if he does, they get a transfer fee if he goes on to better things. Any employer would love this system. Unfortunately it's illegal, and has been for quite some time. The victims are the countless players kicked out of the game because of injury, or because they were no good, who get nothing from the club because they're out of contract, and have to start from scratch, so don't say our current system works fine.
Let's just hope English football doesn't just bury its head in the sand and hope it'll all go away. Above all let's hope our Glenn abandons his policy of two year contracts, and gets Ramage, Phillips, and Miller in particular on something longer term.
Difficult learning process
By Ian Grant
For those unaware of the details, the Bosman case revolves around the freedom of a footballer to find a new club when his contract runs out. As it stands the systems used in different countries are various - for example, in Britain a player is granted an free transfer automatically if his wages are decreased at the end of a contract.
The Bosman hearing - and it's not yet a final decision - may have two effects. The first is that the "three foreigners" rule will no longer apply in European competitions - something that everyone in the entire world, apart from Jimmy Hill, thinks is long overdue. That kind of rule is just petty, small-minded bureaucracy and there's enough of that in football already. The second is far more serious - clubs can no longer demand a transfer fee when an out-of-contract player finds a new club. Not surprisingly, Jimmy's pretty upset about that one too.
First of all, freedom of movement is, of course, a basic employment right - footballers shouldn't be any different from anyone else in the workplace. Brussels isn't meddling unnecessarily on this one. For that reason, this is an unavoidable decision. There can be no negotiating - it's the law and, for once, I happen to believe that the law is correct.
That doesn't mean I'm not scared witless by the implications. Nothing new there - I've had a very pessimistic view of the prospects for lower division clubs for some time - but the change in the transfer market could spell the end for a number of clubs.
I have no doubt that, for those clubs that manage to survive the period of turmoil, things may well return to some form of order. The battles wages and contracts will be intense - clubs attempting to get young players to sign long contracts so that they can sell them for a fee, players wanting the freedom of a shorter term - but there may well be some sort of stability. There HAS to be. I've never accepted the idea that part-time football is some form of solution - in my opinion, it's a slippery slope that can only lead to the kind of two-tier football that exists in Scotland. That's not in anyone's interests.
Similarly, those smaller clubs that are still around will benefit from the increased number of free transfers - which, bearing in mind that Brighton have precisely NO money to spend on players, can't be a bad thing. That may prove to be a viable, and natural, way of redistributing money back to smaller clubs - after all, not everyone can play in the Premiership and quality players may well opt for first team football at a smaller club.
So the future may work out okay. In the meantime, however, we've got a serious problem to deal with. The fact is that virtually every player in British football is on a relatively short contract. That means everyone from Stan Collymore to Bobby McShort-Arse in the Darlington Reserve team. I rather suspect Liverpool might not be happy about paying 8.5 million for Stan's services, only to see him sod off for better wages in Italy when his contract ends - remember, they won't receive a penny in return. The same applies to all clubs - for example, the investment in Kevin Miller won't look like much of an investment when his contract's up.
People will learn, of course - next time we sign someone like Ramage or Miller, we'll be attempting to negotiate a far longer contract to protect the investment. But that learning process might prove too hard for some clubs. I can only speak from personal knowledge - so that includes Brighton, who are in desperate trouble both on and off the pitch. The only assets the Albion have are the Goldstone Ground and certain players - the Goldstone has already, controversially, been sold but what about the players? They haven't got any world-beaters but there are a few who should move up in the world in time - Brighton will be relying on the money generated by the sale of those players. Remember - there's no cash to bring in new players! So what happens when the contracts end?
Under the circumstances, there has to be some form of protection while the transition to a new transfer and contract system takes place. Otherwise we might find ourselves a few clubs short when the storm's over and, regardless of blanket Premiership media coverage, that's not a good thing. Football is more than just a game - it's part of our community life, part of the fabric of society. Something worth protecting. If clubs act sensibly, helped by the PFA and FA, there's no reason why the Bosman case should be a calamity. What are the chances of that happening? Hmmm.