What is a free transfer football? Bosman judgment explained

Players changing clubs after their contract expires are now taken for granted, but the rulebooks have had to be rewritten to allow for this

Free transfers are now commonplace in modern football, and players often choose to terminate their contracts to secure a move.

In such cases, a change of ownership fee isn’t required — but that wasn’t always the case.

It took a historic court case in 1995 to make such freedom of movement possible. So what is the Bosman ruling and how has it affected the transfer market? GATE look…

What is a free transfer football?

A free transfer occurs when a specific player reaches the end of their contract and no new terms are agreed.

At this stage, with no legal binding between two parties, decisions can be made to take on a new challenge.

Contracts in European football usually expire in the summer when domestic competitions come to an end.

Players preparing to become a free agent can discuss pre-contractual agreements with teams outside of the country in which they play six months before their contract expires.

With no transfer fee involved in such promotions, lucrative contracts and sign-on bonuses are common, allowing recruiting sites to invest more money in the player themselves.

What is the Bosman Judgment?

Bosman graphic

Getty Images/GOAL

All of this is possible through the Bosman judgment that changed the face of football forever.

Jean-Marc Bosman was a player at Belgian club RFC Liege when his contract expired in 1990.

He wanted to join French club Dunkerque but they refused to meet Liege’s transfer demands and no deal materialized.

Bosman’s salary was cut by 70 per cent as he was no longer a registered first-team player and he decided to take his case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg – where he sued his Belgian employer over trade restrictions.

In 1995, a free movement of workers scheme for professional footballers was enacted, lifting restrictions on players in the EU on paying transfer fees for workers without a contract.

Courts of arbitration have existed in the UK since 1981 – and sometimes still do when it comes to domestic players under the age of 24 – but these restrictions were lifted as free agents became a familiar part of the game.

Has the Bosman ruling changed anything else?

Not only did the Bosman case affect transfer matters, other restrictions in European football were also lifted.

Prior to a landmark case, there had been a “three-plus-two” rule that prevented teams from using more than three foreign players in a continental squad, while also requiring them to include at least two players holding the youth ranks of the clubs had gone through.

English teams were hit hard by these rules, as it was stipulated in 1994 that Welsh and Scottish players would be considered ‘foreign’.

After the Bosman ruling was enforced, teams could play as many EU players as they wanted, with restrictions imposed only for non-EU footballers.

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