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A kick up the old Bosmans

A kick up the old Bosmans

Aug 23 2007

by John Thompson, Liverpool Echo

WHEN football clubs own players who have signed contracts of commitment, it follows they cannot technically be forced to sell those players before their contracts are up.

But when clubs put such contracted players up for sale, is it right that the club dictates who they can and cannot join?

That was the nub of the argument in Gabriel Heinze’s battle to sign for Liverpool having been shown the door at Old Trafford.

And you can’t help but suspect that following the Premier League’s transparently tame backing of United’s spurious and convenient case, we could well be at the start, rather than the end, of something here.

When an unwanted journeyman called Jean-Marc Bosman tried to secure a transfer in 1990 once his club contract was up, it took him five years and all kinds of legal battling to get his wish.

When he did, he changed the landscape with transfer deals quite literally for good.

It was ruled players were not club commodities to be enslaved or dictated to when their time at a club was up.

As in any other job, human rights and employment rights held sway in their favour.

The details here may be different and less acute, but there is something of the Bosman spirit in the air which just tells all decent-minded football fans that Gabriel Heinze has been treated shabbily and wrongly by the Premier League – whose business it really wasn’t anyway.

The moral high ground may be less heady than it was with Bosman, but it’s clear that any player who finds himself out of favour at one top club, will seek to secure the best possible financial and footballing deal he can elsewhere.

In short you don’t drop down two divisions when you need only drop down one. Or none at all.

And when United cast-off Heinze heard Liverpool would happily have him it must have been music to his astonished Argentinean ears.

The fact he had not lost his bottle despite that music being drowned in a din of protest from United did him great credit.

There’s no doubt Liverpool fans would be as aghast as United fans at the prospect of one of their own opting to head down the M62.

Of course, it’s understandable United didn’t want to help Liverpool any more than Liverpool and Rafa Benitez would want to help United (though we all know United told him in writing he could go to anyone he liked before realising their embarrassing ‘gaffe’).

But that’s not the point.

Thanks to the Bosman ruling, Heinze would have been free to join Liverpool when his United contract was up because, ultimately and rightly, players must be the masters of their own ships and captain of their football fates.

Technically, Heinze reckoned the letter he was given by United gave him that right now. And he wanted to exercise it at Anfield.

There’s no doubt that morally at least, Gabriel Heinze should have been free to join whoever he wished when declared surplus to United’s requirements.

In backing United’s attempts to stop him joining Liverpool, the Premier League panel obsequiously appeased United and put the Premier League ‘product’ before the rights of its players.

Perhaps in years to come, as with Bosman, this less cruel footballing anomaly will also be put right in European Law.

It should be.

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