By Tony Attwood
It had to happen sometime: Barcelona currently banned from making transfers are begging Fifa to allow them to play Arda Turan, now. Turan was signed in the last transfer window as Barcelona found a loophole in their banning order realising they could sign the player, but simply not play him. Now they argue that as the transfer window is closed they should be able to play him – which of course would nullify the entire purpose of their one year ban.
The irony of this is that the latest scurrilous Barcelona manipulation of the regulations comes as today Fifpro – the players’ union – starts its court action to get the transfer system made illegal in Europe. The action is being taken in front of the European Commission.
Fifpro (which represents 65,000 players) argues that transfer fees reduces freedom of movement guaranteed in the EU and that the process is anti-competitive because it gives big employers more power than they should have.
This is one of a series of Fifpro attacks on the current system of football – they also support the move to end the loan system, and the end of the “25” limits on player numbers and far greater restriction on agents.
Theo van Seggelen of Fifpro argues that this will be the biggest change to football since Bosman, saying that football has not followed the 2001 settlement that set out variations that football could follow in relation to general European law. These were agreed by the EC on the basis that football is not competitive in the same way as other businesses because to make it work, leagues have to be restricted, and because fans do not have the same freedom to move between clubs because of the notion of “support”, as consumers do in an open market.
This will be a long haul and could take anything up to a year, followed by another year of bargaining to establish a new set of rules. That bargaining period could be disastrous for clubs that don’t keep up with the times since they could be paying big transfer fees for players who could possibly walk away after a short while as the law changes.
Fifpro is supported by economist Stefan Szymanski who says that the “wider benefits” argument used to support the current system is not valid that the money taken in transfers then goes on to feed and support clubs in lower leagues as their players are purchased by bigger clubs is not valid.
He argues that “it remains the case that there are better alternatives to achieving the stated policy goals, as observed by Carl Otto Lenz Advocate General at the European Court of Justice in the Bosman case 20 years ago.
“The transfer system sustains the dominance of the elite clubs by ensuring that they are the only ones with the financial muscle to afford the transfer fees payable for the very best players. Thus, as it currently operates, the transfers system is not only unfair to players, it also promotes the opposite of what was intended.
The idea is that contracts will contain a special period of time in which players could not be transferred. After that a player could buy out the contract and move on. Such an approach would stop money flowing out of the game and produce stability they argue.
At the same time there is a wish to restrict agents fees, because the current system encourages agents to agitate for a move so that they can get another pay day from arranging the move. Fifa’s report on the issues shows that agents too £155m out of football in 2014 on international transfers.
For the players (and this is obviously a trade union action so it is all for the players) it is argued that reform will protect players and create more stability as well as improving competitive balance in the game.
Fifpro also wants new regulations covering the guaranteeing of payment of salaries, which of course is an issue in many smaller leagues. England doesn’t have so much of a problem here because of the “football creditor” rule which means players need to be paid first before the rest of the people owed money when a club goes bust get paid. Revenue and Customs in the UK has been fighting that for a long time.
The issue of payment of salaries, although rarely making the news in England, is a major one, as a Fifpro study three years ago shows that 42% of players did not receive their salaries on time in one season.
Theo van Seggelen added, “I speak with players from all over the world, from Japan to Bolivia. The only difference between players is that one has a second-hand bike and the other has a Ferrari. All the players have to sacrifice to become a professional player.
“Our top players promote Fifpro, they are happy to be in our world XI, they are happy to be treated like everyone else. That is why the top players in Spain demanded that players in the third division were paid two years ago. We represent 60,000 players and we are united.”
The move overall will take up an issue that was thought initially to have been resolved by the Webster Ruling.
In September 2006 Andy Webster of Herts became the first player to exploit updated Fifa regulations which said players can unilaterally walk away from a contract after a fixed period, irrespective of the duration of the contract itself.
At the time the ruling seemed to herald the end of the transfer system although Celtic stated they would sue any player who used the ruling, arguing that a court of law would support them and overturn a ruling of the CAS. However the CAS ruling has not been challenged in court.
In fact what has happened is that the CAS ruling has been used as a backdrop to discussions, with agents and union officials simply telling clubs in relation to any player who has been at a club for three years, “either offer a new contract, or sell him, or we will invoke the CAS ruling.”
As a result the ruling has been used, but rarely, as agents in particular have urged players to stay and get a transfer deal, so that they (the agents) get their cut. It is believed that this is one of the reasons why Fifpro is linking reform of agents to the process of ending the transfer system.
25 September 2004: The 0-1 away defeat of Man City made it 6 wins and 1 draw in the league. Cole scored the goal. This was also the final match of the longest unbeaten away sequence in league football: 27 games from 5 April 2003.
25 September 2008: Untold Arsenal predicted that Arsenal would sign a midfielder for £40m. On 2 September 2013 Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal