The Bosman Case: The Start of a New Era in Soccer

Are you familiar with the case of Jean-Marc Bosman? Although few are aware, this was a legal battle that set the tone and marked the foundations of soccer as we know it today.
The Bosman Case: The Start of a New Era in Soccer

Last update: 23 November, 2019

It seems ludicrous to think that current European soccer, complete with international stars and multi-million dollar contracts, owes much of its success to a Belgian player who worked for a modest club in his country in the 1990s. However, it’s true! Today we’ll go over the true story of Jean-Marc Bosman, the player who changed soccer forever.

Who is Jean-Marc Bosman?

Bosman was a Belgian player who developed his career in various clubs within his country. His most outstanding sporting steps were in the Standard Liege, one of the most popular teams in Belgium, and in the national team.

However, in 1990 this man would take a step towards fame that he never imagined. His battle marked a before and after in the history of international soccer, even though his personal life took a toll that couldn’t be fixed.

The conflict

In the mid-1990s, as the soccer season came to a close, Jean-Marc Bosman ended his contract with the RFC Liege club.

Although he was offered a renewal of the contract, the player dismissed the option because he considered it economically insufficient. Therefore, he had to find a new club to take him on for the next season.

At that time the USL Dunkerque, from the second division of France, appeared on the scene. Bosman was willing to sign with Dunkerke, but there was a problem. There was no agreement between Dunkirk and RFC Liege.

At that time, the termination of the contract didn’t imply that the player-club link ended, so Bosman needed the approval of the RFC Liege to leave. As this didn’t happen, he had to stay in Belgium, despite being removed from the professional staff.

The Bosman case: resolution and consequences

Of course, Bosman appealed the sentence that made him stay in Belgium even if he wasn’t playing with the Liege team.

Because of this, Bosman started a trial against the Belgian Football Federation, UEFA, and even FIFA. His claim was that the rules of these entities violated the rights of the movement of European workers among European Union countries. The Treaty of Rome – signed in 1956 – supported his position.

Bosman at an interview

Bosman turned to justice to fight for his rights as a soccer player.


Freedom from his contract, at last

In December 1996 – six years after the lawsuit began – the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a ruling on the so-called Bosman case.

The European Court of Justice ruled that the player had valid grounds for his request: the club no longer had the power to decide once the contract with the player ended.

This was a very important advance in terms of rights for soccer players. With this new law, the clubs’ abuse of power was avoided and a much stronger position was achieved to negotiate new contracts in the future. In other words, the players stopped being ‘hostages’ of the clubs.

Recruitment of Europeans without border limitations

In addition to affecting the contractual relationship, the Court also ruled that sports federations or international associations couldn’t restrict the movement of European workers within the EU.

This marked an unprecedented change in European soccer: from four foreigners per team – of which only three could be on the playing field simultaneously – the limitation now only included non-EU players. The signings increased gradually until reaching the hundreds of transfers we see frequently these days.

Bosman’s sad ending

Most players nowadays owe a large chunk of their European careers to the legal battle started by Bosman. This player decided to stand up to the board and fight for his rights. Until that moment, no one had dared to do such a thing.

Close image of Marc Bosman smiling.

Image: Sunday Post.

However, everything has its price: Bosman had empowered athletes as nobody had, but this earned him the total exclusion of the ‘system’. Since the beginning of his conflict, no club signed him.

In addition, the 280 thousand euros that he received as compensation after reaching the judicial agreement, was quickly squandered. He was overwhelmed and had fallen into alcoholism.

Thus, surviving on a minimum pension, he was sentenced to one year in prison in 2013 for assaulting his wife and daughter.

In short, every story has two sides. On the one hand, that of a brave man who rebelled and fought for what was his. On the other, a system that even now is collecting the gains from his initiative while leaving him to be completely forgotten. However, the name of Jean-Marc Bosman will never be erased from the history of European soccer.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.