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06/12/2016

Footballers ask Commission to abolish transfer system

Competition

Footballers ask Commission to abolish transfer system

Kevin de Bruyne was sold to Manchester City for €75 million.

[Erik Drost/Flickr]

The world union for footballers called for the transfer system to be “abolished” on Friday (18 September), and slapped in an EU legal challenge to FIFA that could ban transfer windows and drive down the price of players.

The current system amounted to “slavery” for many players, FIFPro said, with footballers being exploited by clubs and agents.

Transfer windows – periods when players can be bought and sold – drove up fees until they were indecent, said Philippe Piat, president of FIFPro, before pointing to Manchester City’s €75 million fee for Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruyne.

FIFPro today filed a complaint with the European Commission, arguing that the transfer market broke EU law because big clubs keep the best footballers between themselves. It was also unfair under labour rules, it said. 

The Commission has wide ranging competition law powers. In 1995’s Bosman Ruling, the European Court of Justice decided that players could leave clubs without transfer fees being paid when their contracts ran out.

High transfers meant that smaller clubs could not compete with the big clubs. 67% of players sold from big clubs went to other big clubs, said Theo Van Seggelen, secretary general of FIFPro.

FIFPro pointed out that players’ contracts were being used as financial tools rather than genuine labour contracts.

It was not unusual for players to extend their contracts before being sold. If they didn’t sign, they were often put in the reserves, said Piat.

Trafficked

In addition, FIFPro said young players were being “trafficked” to Europe by unscrupulous agents. The fact agents were meant to represent players, but were paid by the clubs, was unacceptable, Piat added.

Asked whether changing the transfer system would mean big clubs would simply raise wages, Van Seggelen said safeguards would be put in place to ensure teams were sustainable and competitive.

Smaller teams would then be in a stronger position eventually to compete with the larger teams.

The change was needed so that national leagues in smaller countries were still worth watching, he said.

The legal challenge comes after UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules – which were criticised for protecting the status quo of major teams – are being considered by EU judges.

Any decision by Brussels is likely to take many years before it could take effect. If the Commission backs the union, clubs will almost certainly appeal leading to lengthy court battles.

Background

In the 1995 Bosman Ruling, the European Court of Justice decided that players could leave clubs without transfer fees being paid when their contracts ran out.

Following the Bosman ruling, foreign players flooded into domestic leagues. The ruling made clubs' demands for a transfer fee after a player's contract had expired and UEFA's quota system of three foreigner and two 'assimilated' foreigner players in a team illegal.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules - aimed at making clubs financially sustainable – are currently being considered by EU judges.

Today the world footballers' union filed a complaint against FIFA at the European Commission, arguing that the current transfer market was anti-competitive. 

Further Reading