A Bosman AKA a free transfer in football occurs when a player, on the completion of his contract with a certain club moves to another club without the new club having to pay a fee to his previous club.
The Bosman Ruling which took place in 1995, was made on the consolidation of three separate cases namely; Belgian Football Association vs Jean-Marc Bosman, R.F.C de Liège vs Jean-Marc Bosman and others, and UEFA vs Jean-Marc Bosman after the player on completion of his contract with Belgian Club, R.F.C de Liège, in 1990 wanted to move to French Club, Dunkerque, who were unwilling to pay the transfer fee set by the former. The Belgian club kept the player and had his wages slashed by 70% since he was no longer a first-team player. He then decided to sue.
The Ruling, by the European Court of Justice, has granted players a considerable amount of freedom in determining their future, one of the most popular case is Sol Campbell moving from Tottenham to Arsenal for free causing him to be labelled ‘Judas’ by the supporters of the former Club. However the deal was an instant success as he won the Premier League and the F.A Cup in his first season. He went on to win another Premier League trophy as Arsenal were invincible in 2004 as well as one other F.A Cup in 2005. He was a member of the Invincibles (a feat that has so far not been repeated), and got to play in a Champions League final. All this wouldn’t have been possible if he was forced to stay in Spurs, who didn’t win anything of note during the time he spent in Arsenal. There are other similar examples like Steve Macmanaman from Liverpool to Real Madrid in 1999.
Even after this ruling, it was still common to see players move before the end of their contract for transfer fees. However, it is becoming more common for players to run down their contracts or with one year left and then leave for nothing with most clubs cashing in on their stars so as not to lose them for nothing.
This can be seen as a downside of the ruling as players hold the upper hand during negotiations compared to the football clubs. In the words of Arsene Wenger
“After two years you have to re-negotiate your contract because after three years the player can move out. You give longer contracts because it offers a little bit of protection for the player to have to pay compensation if he moves after three years – if you give a player a five-year contract and he moves after three, he has to pay two years [wages].’
‘But, after two years, you have to re-negotiate with the player because he can move the next season; you have no choice. For me, this measure is inflationary. Why? Because after two years you have to sit down with the player, whether he has played well or not, or you will lose him. You can never get him to sign an extension to his contract for less – that means you will always have to increase his salary. They have created a situation where inflation goes through the roof.'”
And this is exactly what we are seeing with players demanding and getting insane salaries regardless of their contributions to the team. When the teams do not agree to bend to their will, they move to clubs that can afford them. “Oil Money” clubs like PSG and Manchester City haven’t helped the situation as with their deep pockets they can pay almost any amount.
At the end of the 2020/2021 season, we saw David Alaba and Gianluigi Donnarumma move on free transfers from Bayern Munich and AC Milan to Real Madrid and PSG respectively. Most famously, Messi moved from Barcelona to PSG. Barcelona, being in a financial crisis were unable to resign Messi. Having to reduce his salary by more than half in order to stay within the La Liga rules, they found themselves in a fix as Spanish law does not allow that.
This season we’ve seen more big-name players out of contract like Paulo Dybala, Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele and others that have one year left on their contract include Liverpool stars, Salah and Mane. Liverpool FC recently sold Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich to avoid losing him for free next summer. This number of big-name players going for free or with one year left is quite unprecedented and could probably be linked back to the Neymar- PSG transfer which is believed to be the reason for the massive inflation in football today, making it harder for clubs to keep up with player’s demands. This increase in Bosman’s was definitely bound to happen but certain factors as talked about above have helped accelerate it. We may eventually see new laws being brought in to put this in check but with FIFA and UEFA’s track record, this will take years.