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Twenty years of the Bosman (feat. five of the best)

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On 15th December 1995, the shape of European football changed. The man at the heart of it was Jean-Marc Bosman – an average player in the Belgian first division, who in 1990 had found himself trapped at RFC Liege.

Having refused to sign a new contract, claiming Liege were offering him four times less money, Bosman looked set for a move to French side Dunkerque. Liege, however, still held his player registration and demanded a transfer fee.

Bosman took a stand and challenged them – a challenge that went all the way to the European Court of Justice, with Bosman arguing football’s rules contravened the European Union’s right to free movement of workers.

Today’s culture of huge salaries owes itself to Bosman, who handed players the power to ask for more – before 1995 what was offered was what you had to take, unless a club chose to release you or accept a transfer bid. Now, with six months to go on a contract, a player can begin to look around – if their current club won’t stump up the cash, maybe someone else will.

For someone whose playing career hardly set the world alight, Bosman has had a far reaching impact on the world of football changing it almost beyond recognition.

The inner workings of a football transfer remain in the shade for most football fans, and the concept of a player’s registration being transferred, not the player themselves, often gets lost. Before Bosman, if a professional footballer wanted to turn down a contract and go off and be a bricklayer or a barman, they could, but if they wanted to play for another team, they couldn’t. It’s a completely alien process to most people, for whom moving to another job is a relatively simple affair.

What Bosman achieved was making football players just like any other employee, and with that he put power back in the hands of the players.

In the twenty years since the Bosman ruling came into force, some of European’s biggest name players have exploited it to move clubs – some rebuilding careers, some upsetting fans.

Here are five of the best…

Andrea Pirlo

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The thinking man’s football wizard. The hipster’s holding midfielder of choice. Andrea Pirlo was already the wrong side of thirty when he left AC Milan for Turin on a free transfer, but he became a cultured and inspirational presence at Juventus. Instead of fading away, he won four consecutive Serie A titles with the Old Lady of Italian football, winning the club’s player of the season award in 2011-12. Another free transfer followed this year, as Pirlo head to the MLS to join newly created franchise New York City FC to build something new. A move befitting a man nicknamed The Architect.

Sol Campbell

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Sol Campbell must have known the wasp’s nest he was kicking by moving from Tottenham to Arsenal in 2001. Arsene Wenger was rebuilding Arsenal’s backline and looking for another talismanic centre-back with Tony Adams in the twilight of his career, Campbell fit the bill. Spurs fans never forgave Campbell, who won two league titles and three FA Cups with Arsenal, as well as becoming an ‘Invincible’.

Robert Lewandowski

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The Polish strikeman was already one of the most feared forwards in the Bundesliga before he joined Bayern Munich from Dortmund last season. Now he’s setting records, scoring ten times in the first seven matches of this season, and scoring five goals in less then ten minutes against Wolfsburg in September. He has raced to 100 Bundesliga goals in just 168 games, and at 27, there is much more to come from this Bosman signing.

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McManaman’s transfer from Liverpool to Real Madrid in 1999 made him the first high-profile British transfer under the Bosman ruling. The following year he became the first English player to win the Champions League at a foreign club, adding two La Liga titles to his haul. Although our home-grown talent is notoriously shy about playing abroad, McManaman paved the way for a new generation of British exports to Madrid.

David Beckham

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Perhaps the biggest and most marketable name in world football, even now after his retirement, David Beckham was one of those British exports – his signing pushing McManaman down the pecking order at Real. But it was Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy that exploited the path Bosman laid out to kick start a new era in the MLS. Never before had quite such a marketable name landed on US shores, and aged just 32, Beckham was able to lead LA Galaxy to two MLS Cups.

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