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Players, Salaries and . . . . . . Bosman! 20 years on ….

Jim PearsonWith another season drawing to a close where the Premier League’s top clubs have just got bigger and about to embark on another massive and, some may say, obscene “splash of cash” during the Transfer Window, the subject of money continues to be a popular subject in the world of football.

Whilst we see the huge sums of money players attract in transfer fees, perhaps the biggest sums however go on the weekly wages of players. But how does the Premier League compare to its continental counterparts?

Barcelona striker Lionel Messi has recently been named as the world’s richest footballer by a French magazine.  The Argentina international apparently earns £1m a week thanks to a salary of £26m and lucrative sponsorship contracts, according to the results of an annual survey published by France Football.

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is said to be the sport’s second-highest earner followed by fellow Spanish-based player Neymar.

The Premier League’s highest-ranked star was Robin van Persie with a basic salary of £11.8m plus bonuses, while Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney, Eden Hazard and Yaya Toure all featured in the top 10.
Jose Mourinho was named as the world’s highest-paid coach, with a salary of £10m supplemented by earnings of £3.2m in commercial revenue

With such mind boggling figures it may now be argued that these players are indeed “worth their weight in gold”. However as a consequence and the “drip effect” down the league structures and the use of comparable examples, some players in the Premiership seem to be vastly overpaid.

As widely reported in the press, 20 year old Raheem Sterling (who still has two years of his existing contract to run) has rejected £100,000 a week and is allegedly demanding (an even more obscene) £150,000 a week . The Liverpool winger has become a poster-boy for excess in his hard-ball stance over contract talks, but he is simply playing by football’s modern rules.

Contrast Sterling with 21-year-old Harry Kane, the PFA Young Player of the Year, brought through the ranks at Tottenham Hotspur and rewarded with a £45,000 a week deal, incomparable to that requested by Sterling. Is one a more exciting prospect than the other?

We become so accustomed to seeing numbers between £80,000 and £200,000 a week in the Premier League, rarely is there a moment to pause, digest and consider its grotesqueness, judgment invariably passed based on popularity.

To put things into perspective compared with the “normal” man in the street – a newly qualified teacher, will expect to earn in the region of £20,000 per annum, a newly qualified nurse, if they’re lucky, will earn around the same and an average Police Constable will earn around £25,000 a year.

All this is a different world from the position Twenty years ago when the European Court of Justice passed a ruling that foreshadowed a revolution in European football.

The desire of Jean-Marc Bosman to move from Club de Liege to Dunkerque inadvertently triggered a change in the law that altered the face of football forever.

Little did the low-profile midfielder from Belgium realise what his court action was about to do …

On 15 December 1995, the European Court of Justice ruled that players should be free to move when their contracts had expired. It also ruled that EU clubs could hire any number of European Union players. After the ruling, a player was free to leave as soon as his contract expired.

Result? The player became the boss.

Before Bosman, a player could not leave unless his club agreed to let him go. After the ruling, a player was free to leave as soon as his contract expired.  Free-agent players moving clubs could demand huge signing-on fees and salaries, on the basis that the club they were joining had not had to pay a penny in transfer fees. Clubs became powerless to stop their best players leaving at the end of their existing deals. The Sami Nasri episode highlighted this when Arsenal were prepared to sell him to Manchester City in order to get a transfer fee, the player having decided to “run down” his contracts and leave at the end of his contract for effectively nothing.

And as shown above, players under contract could ask for bigger and better deals for staying put – because they could threaten to leave for free if the club failed to accede to their demands.

Pre-Bosman, clubs were limited in the number of foreign players they could sign. That made impossible the phenomenon of clubs fielding teams without a single player from that country. Without the Bosman ruling, Chelsea and Arsenal could never have fielded teams without a single British player, as both have famously done.

When players became more powerful, so did their agents.
Agents were able to pick up fees from a club for bringing an out-of-contract star player to them, and take their cut of the signing-on fees and loyalty bonuses that they demanded for their clients. The savvy amongst them were able to set themselves up as international operators, acting as negotiators for the overseas footballers pouring into the European leagues and as unofficial scouts – or touts – for the clubs signing them.

Clubs were forced to pay higher wages to players post-Bosman – and that meant that they sought to boost their revenues accordingly.
The average fan ended up footing some of the bill, partly through increased ticket prices, buying shirts with the latest hero’s name on the back, even a pie and a pint at half-time but also for the television packages that allowed them to watch the new millionaires from the comfort of their own homes.
To prevent their best players leaving on a Bosman transfer – and thus costing them potentially millions in lost transfer fees – clubs began signing their star names to long-term deals with high salaries.

The smaller clubs could no longer rely upon transfer fees to boost their coffers.
Whereas before they could develop home-grown talent and know that they could sell it on to the big boys, their best young players could leave for free at the end of their deals.
The rich clubs, at the same time, were the only ones who could afford to match the biggest stars’ newly-inflated salaries.

Also the huge sums of money available to the big clubs, through the worldwide television deals, Premier League and Champions League was increasingly diverted to the pockets of players and their agents rather than going on transfer fees to lower league teams

Those clubs who had access to all the money started to financially squeeze the smaller clubs, not just to get stronger themselves but to weaken the opposition! Ironically, Bosman himself was left bereft by his far-reaching court action.

He started his case in 1990 when he was 25 and in the prime of his career, was left in limbo for five years and then, one year after he won, he had to leave third division Vise because he said he could not make a living out of it. He gave his career to a court case to serve a cause, but he saw that the transfer fees were/are still there, quotas on home-grown players are making a comeback and the rich clubs are richer and the poor ones are poorer.

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