It all seems rather humdrum now, but when Jean-Marc Bosman successfully sued his then Club RFC Liege for restraint of trade in 1995, and won, the decision would change the landscape of football, player movement and contracts significantly and permanently.
His name is part of the parlance of how football is spoken about. To move on a free is to move on a Bosman. He and his actions are ingrained in our subconscious at least. And correctly so. Because of him the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that what was in place was a system that restricted the free movement of players. The fallout was that players were given the right to move at will, and for nothing, on the completion of their contracts.
Tribunals to seek agreement between two clubs over a player with no contract, appears now almost half-witted. But it was indeed the case at the time and necessarily so. To let a players contract run out and still retain his services as servile as it was, was how it was.
Bosman’s actions had reactions, and handed the power of negotiation and position to the players. Bosman himself was resolute and undaunted. Despite having no contract by this stage, Liege valued Bosman at £500,000 at the time. They effectively valued him out of a deal with French side Dunkirk who had pursued the services of the midfielder and one time captain of the Belgian youth side. Bosman then found his wages cut by 75 percent to £500 pounds a week. It was this injustice that Bosman felt had been served on him that ignited the fire that would see him successfully sue his employers in a Belgian court and ultimately sue for damages right through to the European Court.
But in the interim his football career suffered. He dropped down as far as playing for a fourth tier Belgian side and also spent some time in the French Indian Ocean Island, Réunion. His fight for what he deemed to be fair had left him bankrupt. By the time the famous legal ruing was made in 1995, he had been living in the converted garage of his family home. His wife and daughter where no longer living with him. On the pitch clubs had seen him as a risk and few were willing to give him an opportunity to play.
In 2011, a newspaper interview showed Bosman to be bloated, broke and suffering with both depression and alcoholism. He said himself at the time: “It has been very, very hard. I won in court but I am the one who has paid and paid and paid.”
Nine months after that interview Bosman was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend at the time and his girlfriends daughter. The argument transpired over a disagreement over Bosman having another drink. The successful prosecution saw him escape with a suspended sentence. However the conditions attached to the suspended sentence weren’t all met and this week the 49 year old was sentenced to a years imprisonment and fined €275.