Friday, 20 December 2013

These figures are a joke - it's time to end transfer fees

The recent publication of Goal's Transfer List told the story of football's biggest deals in 2013. Behind the headline figures were the backdrops to the transactions. It made for pretty seedy reading at times, when taking into account the number of vested interests in each move and the obscene amounts of money spent. Consider the case of Neymar and the missing millions as reported by Goal.

There is no doubt that football fans are seduced by multi-million euro deals which see the world's best players moved to the biggest clubs. A big transfer captures the imagination and creates headlines. It is difficult to imagine the current game without them. But that is what FIFPro, the international football players' union, is doing.

FIFPro this week released a statement demanding a total overhaul of the transfer system which could, ultimately, remove fees from football.

"FIFPro is preparing all necessary means, including legal action, to reinstall the world’s professional football players’ rights as workers," the statement read. "Legal and monetary shackles binding footballers (the employees) to their current clubs (the employers) can no longer be accepted and upheld."

What FIFPro wants is a system which more closely resembles other industries. Football is very different in the sense that it demands fees for the transfer of workers under contract. It is virtually unheard of in every other sector.

FIFPro's panel of experts drew up plans to address the freedom of movement of its workers within the EU and competition law. It argues that the current set-up contravenes players' human rights and shoves money into the pockets of agents - some 28 per cent of all fees. If that is not a waste of money, then what is?

"Football players are workers and only when they are able to enjoy the rights enshrined in law and enjoyed by all other workers will FIFPro be satisfied," said president Phillipe Piat. FIFPro intends to take its case to the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and human rights courts.

"Despite football enjoying record amounts of revenue, football’s regulatory and economic system fails miserably on numerous fronts and drives the professional game towards self-destruction," FIFPro Division Europe president Bobby Barnes said. "Destruction through a systemic disrespect for those on the pitch. Destruction through a failure to achieve competitive balance and financial stability. Destruction through an absence of responsible governance, which invites criminals to abuse our game."

On that point, FIFPro claims that players at clubs which fail to pay wages on time are more vulnerable to match fixing approaches, threatening the very competitive fabric of the game itself.

"The current industrial model of football in general fails to ensure a professional management and compliance culture that is capable of safeguarding our game against internal and external abuse," continues Barnes. "In contrast, in the absence of competitive balance it encourages speculative, unsustainable, immoral and illegal investment models like third-party ownership of players."

It is a radical view of the future of football but one which is long overdue. Football still abides by an arcane version of servitude in which the services of a worker are sold to the highest bidder. Only when it is compared to the realities in other industries does its ridiculousness become apparent.

A move towards this brave new world as imagined by FIFPro might make clubs, and indeed players, think more carefully about their next moves and may bring more stability to the careers of individuals as well as the long-term planning of teams.

A football player is a worker like any other and deserves to have the same treatment and respect in the workplace as his counterpart in other industries. His working rights should not be traded in order to boost the profits of his employer. If he wants to leave, he should be entitled to leave.

Football is out of step with the real world; the Bosman Ruling in 1995 and the informal arrangement between Fifa, Uefa and the European Commission in 2001 helped synchronise things to an extent. But FIFPro is right, things need to be taken a step further.

Will this new departure make rich players richer? Yes, of course. The game is heading that way in any case. But it is not about the headliners - the Neymars and Falcaos. It is about players further down the food chain who want to provide for their families in the best setting possible. It is a short, demanding career and not everyone is a superstar. FIFPro represents some 70,000 players - not all of those millionaires.

Remember, without players there is no game.

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