Belgium’s long shadow in international soccer: Bosman and Charleroi

Belgium is hardly considered a powerhouse in world soccer, let alone European soccer. Their cupboard is quite bare of honors. Its best showing was the Enzo Scifo and Jan Ceulemans led team that finished fourth in the 1986 World Cup. In the European Championships they were runners up to the Germans in 1980. However it has cast a very, very long shadow in international soccer in the way that the modern game has evolved and continues to do so.
The present day rules of transfers that have led to European clubs recruiting top talent from Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe, leading to the globalized nature of the game is due to a lawsuit filed in the European Court of Justice by a little known Belgian player, Jean Marc Bosman against his club, FC Liege, a second division Belgian club. In 1990, Bosman wanted to transfer to French side Dunkerque but FC Liege, his club did not agree on the transfer amount and so refused his request. Meanwhile Bosman was demoted to the second team and his wages reduced. Bosman filed his lawsuit and after a few years of a tough battle, the European Court ruled that Bosman and other EU players at their end of the contract are entitled to a free transfer to any club that they sign up with.
The Bosman ruling did away with some peculiar notions of nation-states, especially in the British Isles. The UEFA and FIFA considered the British Isles to consist of four different countries, England, Wales, Northerm Ireland, and Scotland. This led to the UEFA limiting the number of foreign players in clubs participating in the UEFA cup to three. Manchester United had a problem because Ryan Giggs from Wales was considered a foreign player. The Bosman ruling did away with these superflous quotas and opened up the game of soccer to a number of players and a larger audience. It is looked on as a positive change in the world of soccer. This is the reason we can get to see the talent of Thierry Henry at Arsenal.
As much as the Bosman ruling helped in globalizing soccer a more recent ruling in a Belgian court has imposed a protectionist mould to the world of soccer. It has sharpened the divide between club versus country. A recent court case was filed by the Belgian club Charleroi against FIFA and their member countries that compensates the club for injuries that a player sustains while he plays for his country. In November 2004, Charleroi striker Abdelmajid Ouelmars was injured while playing for Morocco against Burkina Faso. Charleroi’s complaint was that because of the injury to Ouelmars, they did not win the championship in 2005 and needed compensation. The lawsuit was supported by the G14 (a group of elite European soccer clubs) that establishes fealty to the clubs as a prime virtue over country and wants liability to be paid the clubs in lost wages. In fact, the clubs want to be the arbiter as to which players end up representing their country. The Charleroi case has now been moved to the European Court where a verdict is awaited.
The acrimonous tug of war seen in regards to Wayne Rooney’s inclusion between Sir Alex and the FA and that of David Moyes with Tim Cahill and the Socceroos is a classic battleline being drawn in this increasingly bitter divide. In fact, one of the reasons, and hitherto not mentioned for less exciting and low scoring future editions of the World Cup will be because players risk fewer injuries because of their club commitments. The ruling will also reinforce G14’s primacy over making player decisions over the respective boards especially in the length of the season. Players are playing more matches as the clubs squeeze the maximum out of them in high transfer fees and TV broadcasting and advertising revenues.
To learn more about the G14
“It appears that the core activity of football nowadays rather resides within club football than amongst the national teams competitions.
Therefore, and as a consequence of their historical-based structures and constitutions, the FA and their global association currently exploit an expertise, which does not lie in the day-to-day running of club football.”
Martin Samuel’s brilliant critique of the G14 and its agenda of protectionism >>

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3 comments on “Belgium’s long shadow in international soccer: Bosman and Charleroi
  1. A little respect for Belgian football, please.
    The Bosman ruling is a good thing for the players.

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