Jean-Marc Bosman made a generation of footballers multi-millionaires – but 20 years on, he’s broke
Key legal ruling transformed transfer system, but Belgian player missed out on the goldrush
Jean-Marc Bosman may have changed the face of football transfers for ever but the Belgian has been left destitute after the system changed too late for him to take advantage.
Bosman is known the world over for having challenged the previous regulations governing football transfers before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to give those out of contract the freedom to join new clubs without their old team's permission.
“Nowadays certain players earn tens of thousands of euros each week and me, I got nothing in return except for a few thank-yous,” lamented the 51-year-old in an interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
“Everyone made money, except me. Somewhere the stars of football are flaunting my money!”
Back in 1990, Bosman, then 25, wanted to leave RFC Liege in his homeland to join French outfit Dunkerque.
Bosman was out of contract but Dunkerque refused to meet Liege's asking price and so the Belgians blocked his transfer.
As he was no longer a first team player, Liege reduced his salary.
The player himself believed this was a breach of his rights, considering European football's governing body Uefa to be applying rules that contravened the free circulation of labour as was enshrined in European Union law, and took his case to the ECJ.
The ECJ ruled in favour of Bosman, but not until five years later, on December 15, 1995.
By then, his career was over having briefly played in the French and Belgian lower leagues after securing his release from Liege.
Players who were out of contract could now leave their clubs without a transfer fee being played, meaning the players themselves could also negotiate higher wages when switching teams.
However, 20 years on and while today's footballers easily become millionaires, Bosman is destitute, although he says he regrets nothing.
“That day, footballers who had until then been commodities, became workers, free and in charge of their own destiny,” added Bosman.
He came away from the ECJ ruling with 400,000 euros but that was soon blown on lawyers' fees, tax and poor investment decisions.
Bosman fell into depression and alcoholism and was even sentenced to a year in jail in 2013 for assaulting his former girlfriend and her daughter.
He remains out of work and doesn't get any social aid or even the dole.
However, FIFPro, the International Federation of Professional Footballers, is said to be ready to come to his assistance and give Bosman a job.
The rules have changed and Europe has since seen a massive influx of players from elsewhere in the world, to the point that less than half the players currently plying their trade in Belgium are Belgians.
But according to Luc Misson, Bosman's lawyer at the time, things have not changed as much as might be thought.
“Finally the players might be free, but they are no less merchandise that agents trade to the highest bidder,” he said.
More than 300 delegates gathered at an Amsterdam conference centre on Monday as FIFPro marked the 20-year anniversary of the Bosman Ruling by calling for another overhaul to the transfer system.
“It was a tough challenge, but we prevailed,” said Bosman in a FIFPro interview.
“I am very satisfied, I did something that was good. They say the Bosman case was the (most important) legal case of the century in sport.
But FIFPro wants a further overhaul and in September filed a complaint with the European Commission against Fifa, claiming the current rules are “anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal”.
FIFPro claims that transfer regulations “prevent clubs from fairly competing on the market” which in turn is “harming the interest of players, small and medium sized professional teams”.
They say footballers do not enjoy the same rights as clubs to unilaterally end contracts, meaning the professional athletes do not have similar freedoms to other kinds of employees in relation to their employers.