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Fifa limits on transfers may be illegal under EU law

Joe Yoffe, who plays in Icelandic second division, says Fifa transfer regulations limit free movement of labour guaranteed under EU law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 4:02am
 

Soccer transfers may be in line for another Bosman-style shake-up as an English striker considers taking legal action to seek more freedom for journeymen players to move clubs.

English-born striker Joe Yoffe, 26, currently plying his trade in the Icelandic second division, is planning to challenge Fifa regulations that he says limits his freedom of movement and his ability to earn a living as a professional footballer.

The Manchester-born player is facing an uncertain future as his contract runs out at the end of September and he will not be allowed to register for a new club until January.

Despite being able to sign for free as a Bosman player, clubs in some European countries cannot register him until their transfer windows open again in January - something Yoffe says limits his right to free movement of labour guaranteed under EU law.

Yoffe has played for lower league and semi-professional clubs in England, Spain, Canada, Australia and Ireland and says he is now considering a legal challenge to the transfer regulations to make it easier for players in his position to find new employers.

"It's something I've thought seriously about and there's a number of players in my position who should do the same," Yoffe said, adding that he hoped legal action would not be necessary to enable him to sign for a new club.

If he goes ahead with his challenge it could have the biggest impact on the transfer market since 1995 when Belgian journeyman Jean-Marc Bosman won a ruling from the European Court of Justice that banned transfer fees for players out of contract.

Fifa's transfer rules also currently limit to two the number of clubs that players can represent in a calendar year, meaning that players such as Yoffe - who often sign for cash-strapped clubs on short-term contracts - face enforced spells on the sidelines as they wait to become eligible again.

"Players at the top end of the game are so financially independent that it doesn't really affect them," Yoffe said in an interview at the windswept home ground of UMF Selfoss, an Icelandic second tier club based some 40 kilometres east of Reykjavik.

"But for those of us yet to reach that level, it's very difficult."

With 10 goals in as many games for Selfoss this season, he should be a hot property on the Scandinavian transfer market - were it not for the existing rules.

"You come to the end of your contract and you can't sign for three or four months for a new employer - there's no other job out there where that would be the case," he said.

Footballers in Scandinavian leagues, who play through their summer, often fall foul of these regulations and Magnus Erlingmark, general secretary of Swedish players' union SFS, admitted it was difficult to safeguard the interest of all parties.

"We would like to reduce the limitations on working but then the clubs might also want to turn back the clock to the time before Bosman. It's a difficult balance," Erlingmark said in a telephone interview.

Erlingmark warned that decisions to change the regulations should not be made in haste, as relaxing the rules might lead to greater insecurity for players.

"It's difficult when you can bring players in and out as one wishes - it might lead to even shorter contracts, so it needs to be looked at carefully," he said.

"But in the widest possible sense, players who are out of contract should be allowed to sign for new clubs."

The union boss declined to comment on whether international players' union FIFPro might support Yoffe's specific case, but said that it was something "worth looking at from an international perspective".

Last month Uefa president Michel Platini bemoaned the treatment of players as commodities, describing the current transfer system as "robbery" and said that "something more healthy" was needed to replace it.

Despite the uncertainty of his situation, Yoffe said that he will continue playing professionally and that he hopes that his successful season at Selfoss will act as a springboard to a bigger Scandinavian club next year.

"The last couple of clubs I've been at have been a little bit cash-strapped, and it's definitely made me consider whether to keep on playing the game at a professional level or to go into other employment," he said.

"But there's been enough good times to keep you going through the bad times. I want to be the best that I can, and you feel that you want to prove, not just to other people but to yourself too, that you can keep going and reach the level that you deserve."

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