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Jean-Marc Bosman: Why Footballers Owe A Debt To This Belgian Midfielder

In 1995 Jean-Marc Bosman’s court case at the European Court of Justice changed football forever. It handed power from the clubs onto the players, who used it to ensure that they benefitted financially as much as possible and started the spiralling costs in the sport which have created the multi-billion pound community we have today.

Bosman, like all players, couldn’t leave his club without permission once his contract had finished. The Belgian midfielder wanted to move from Club de Liege to Dunkerque but when he was stopped he took his predicament to the European courts, who ruled in favour of the Belgian youth international.

From now on players over 24 were free to move wherever when their contracts expired, without their new club having to pay any compensation. It allowed players to threaten clubs into providing new contracts which included pay rises and signing-on fees or they would leave for another team that would deliver their demands.

With negotiations becoming even more valuable, players began to enlist the services of agents who would quickly become the most popular bogey-men in football. Their skills meant that clubs had to fork out more and more and these new middle men began to influence transfers as much as managers and chairmen.

Bosman’s lawyer throughout that case, Jean-Louis Dupont, is once again trying to take on the footballing authorities and dismantle their Financial Fair Play programme. Dupont argues that FFP goes against European competition law because it stops owners from overspending to grow clubs, reduces transfer activity and restricts the incomes of players and agents.

If Dupont is successful then he will once again enable everyone in football to pursue their riches unhindered, further alienating fans that have to pay higher ticket prices and make football at the lower levels unsustainable.

Jean-Marc Bosman, the instigator of this change, was another party who never benefited from his ruling. The midfielder began the case in 1990 and until it concluded in 1995 he was unable to play for any club, by which time he was 30 years old and was having to live off the court indemnities now that his football career was effectively over.

He tried to create a new living by investing in various business deals but these all failed which led to issues with his mental health and alcohol addiction.

In 2011 he asked his partner’s 15-year-old daughter to buy him alcohol when he was already drunk and when his partner intervened he punched her in the face, eventually being found guilty of assault. The couple have two other children together but don’t share a home because it would mean he would receive less of his monthly benefits.

Although the judge granted him a one-year suspended sentence in order to get his life back on track, ordering him to take anger management classes and psychotherapy, he never kept up with the appointments and is on the verge of returning to prison.

Jean-Marc Bosman is a lesson to footballers who believe that the game is the easiest route to riches and happiness, and demonstrates that the sport can leave many lives in destitution despite being awash with money.