Ten years ago this week, the European Court of Justice handed down a ruling that revolutionized European soccer. With the Bosman decision, players could switch clubs freely -- a blessing for only a few clubs.
Munich's Michael Ballack just may be saying: Europe, here I come!
The writing is on the wall for Michael Ballack. Bayern Munich signed Paraguayan midfielder Julio dos Santos this week to one day fill the shoes of Ballack who looks to be on his way out. But it's no problem for Ballack, whose contract expires in June 2006.
More than a decade ago, the club's star would not have been able to leave his team so easily. But on Dec. 15, 1995, the European Court of Justice handed the reins of power from the clubs to the players by ruling that the Belgian Jean-Marc Bosman could move from Club de Liege to Dunkerque -- without his team's permission.
The ruling had vast consequences, and not just for Liege.
The judges decreed that European soccer players were free to move about
Previously, clubs were allowed to sign only a limited number of foreign players, a regulation that was particularly harsh towards English teams who had to count Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish players as "foreign" because they have their own independent soccer federations.
The court struck down this clause, throwing the doors wide open for transfers within Europe.
The richer European clubs then started going shopping around the continent to stock up on players. Salaries rose dramatically as the number of teams competing for the top names in Germany expanded beyond Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Clubs with deep pockets like Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona were bidding for players around the continent, forcing teams to be very careful of whom they signed.
If a big signing got hurt, didn't fit in the club or just simply failed to perform during his contract, teams were stuck with huge financial burdens, such as was the case with Dortmund after winning the 2001-02 title.
Small clubs lose important source of revenue
Wanting to play at the top, Borussia Dortmund almost deflated itself into bankruptcy
While the richer seemed only to get richer despite the occasional poor signing, the smaller clubs, who were originally feeders for their bigger brothers, lost a vital source of revenue. Earlier, teams like Freiburg, Duisburg and Bielefeld could nurture younger players to fruition and then cash in on transfer fees at any point.
Post-Bosman, they had to fear for their lives. If a promising player's contract was set to expire at the end of the season, he would be snapped up by someone else, and the poorer club would walk away empty-handed.
Naturally, potential stars hardly ever plan to remain with unremarkable clubs like Sportfreunde Siegen, Unterhaching or Energie Cottbus throughout their whole careers; The attraction of playing for Bayern Munich, Schalke or Stuttgart is simply too great.
Will Cologne's Lukas Podolski (l) run to Bayern Munich?
In a nasty twist, the superstar in a small market could be purchased by a team just to rob the smaller club of its best player. There is no lack of speculation around the Bundesliga that Bayern would like German international Lukas Podolski from Cologne for just this reason. How much truth there is to such rumors is hard to judge concerning how poorly Cologne are faring this season.
Where will Ballack end up?
Ballack will reap the benefits of Bosman's now monumental five-year court struggle to change clubs. Ballack and his agent Michael Becker have been fishing the European waters for the club that will give him that necessary push to become a player of enormous quality. Bayern Munich's management may be cursing Bosman but general manager Uli Hoeness knew this could happen. Bayern will also benefit from the Bosman ruling in the dos Santos signing. Although dos Santos is from Paraguay, he is eligible for a Spanish passport, and hence will not count as a "foreign" player against the league's quota.