Long ago, players were unable to join other clubs unless their current ones allowed them to, even if their contracts had expired. As a result, some players missed the chance to join a better team while some lost out on lucrative contracts and there was hardly anything they could do about it. This was to change however, after one player finally had enough.
Jean-Marc Bosman played for RFC Liege in the Belgian First Division and after his contract had expired in 1990, he wanted to join the French side Dunkerque. Liege however refused to let him leave after the French team refused to meet their transfer fee demand. Things got even worse for Bosman who saw his wages reduced as he was no longer a first-team player. He thus decided to take his case to court. On December 15, 1995, the European Court of Justice ruled that the transfer system placed a restriction on the free movement of workers and EU players were thus allowed to join other clubs at the end of their contracts without a transfer fee, provided that both former and future clubs were within an EU Association. Furthermore, players could agree a pre-contract with another club for a free transfer so long as the contract with their existing club has six months or less remaining. The ruling also removed quotas that restricted the number of EU players on each team.
Despite its benefits to players, the ruling proved disadvantageous to clubs, which were sometimes forced to part with their high profile players for no profits. Several players have taken advantage of the ruling and while some leave because they’ve been released by their clubs, others choose not to renew their contract in order to join a new one. Here are the top 15 Bosman moves in football.
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15 Edwin van der Sar - Ajax to Juventus
When Van der Sar joined Juventus in 1999 after a long and successful stint at Ajax, he became their first non-Italian goalkeeper. This was after he’d established a reputation as one of Europe’s top goalkeepers and even piqued the interest of Manchester United who were looking for a replacement for Peter Schmeichel.
With his help, Juventus finished 2nd in the Serie A twice in a row. He however lost his place as first-choice goalkeeper after Juventus brought in Gianluigi Buffon for a record fee. He left for Fulham before Manchester United eventually snapped him up.
14 Gianluca Vialli - Juventus to Chelsea
The striker joined Chelsea in 1996 on a free transfer from Juventus and won the FA Cup in his first season. Due to a feud with manager Ruud Gullit, he found it hard to secure himself a place in the starting line-up but things changed when Gullit left in 1998 and Vialli became player-manager. He retired in 1999 to focus on his role as Chelsea’s manager and won the FA Cup in his first season in charge. As both player and manager, he won two FA Cups, a League Cup, UEFA Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
13 Miroslav Klose - Bayern Munich to Lazio
In 2011, Bayern decided to offload him after a poor season and he was signed by Lazio. He has managed to score 48 Serie A goals for Lazio and also earned himself a place in Germany’s squad for the 2014 World Cup, which was his fourth. He beat Ronaldo’s record and became the top goalscorer in the history of the FIFA World Cup after scoring twice in the 2014 tournament which Germany went on to win.
12 Henrik Larsson - Celtic to Barcelona
After seven prolific seasons with Celtic, the striker left on a free transfer to Barcelona in 2004. Due to a knee injury, he missed most of his first season at Barcelona. Despite this, the club still gave him a new contract and it proved to be a great decision. He helped Barcelona win the La Liga title for a second consecutive year and came on as a substitute in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final to assist both of Barcelona’s goals in a 2-1 win over Arsenal. He left Barcelona after two seasons having won two La Liga titles, the Champions League and the Spanish Super Cup.
11 Phillip Cocu - PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona
Louis Van Gaal brought in a lot of Dutch players during his time as Barcelona manager and Cocu, signed in 1998 from PSV was one of them. He contributed to Barcelona’s title win in his first season and was able to play in various positions. His versatility ensured that he always got ample playing time and when it comes to foreign players, only Lionel Messi has made more appearances for Barcelona. He is currently the manager for PSV Eindhoven and is still highly regarded by the Barca supporters.
10 Jay-Jay Okocha - Paris Saint-Germain to Bolton
In 2002, the Nigerian midfielder joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer after four years with PSG. In his first season, he helped Bolton avoid relegation and scored the team’s goal of the season in a match against West Ham, which was later voted Bolton’s best Premier League goals in a fans vote. Okocha’s dribbling skills made him an interesting player to watch and he became a fan favorite before his departure in 2006.
9 Gary McAllister - Coventry to Liverpool
Many Liverpool fans questioned the wisdom of bringing the 35-year-old Coventry City midfielder to Anfield in 2000. He however proved them wrong for with his experience, he helped Liverpool’s younger squad secure a cup treble (League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup) in his first season, whereas Coventry were relegated without him. It was therefore not hard to see why Gerard Houllier described him as his “most inspirational signing”. He left Liverpool in 2002 but had already endeared himself to the fans in the two years he was there.
8 Michael Ballack - Bayern Munich to Chelsea
In 2006, the midfielder left Bayern Munich for Chelsea despite interest from Manchester United and Real Madrid. He was publicly bashed by the Bayern hierarchy for his decision to leave and was jeered at his final home match in Munich. He however went on to win a Premier League title, three FA Cups and a League Cup during his four years at Chelsea and also helped Chelsea reach their first ever Champions League final, which they lost on penalties.
7 Steve McManaman - Liverpool to Real Madrid
The winger refused all efforts to extend his contract with Liverpool and his move to Real Madrid in 1999 made him the first high profile English footballer to leave without a transfer fee. He was however overlooked at Madrid due to the arrival of bigger signings. In order to remain important to Madrid, he reinvented his game and became a utility player. His determination to win back his place on the team won him the affection of the Madrid fans and after four years, he left for Manchester City having won two La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues with Madrid.
6 Sol Campbell - Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal
Controversial is how the centre back’s move from Tottenham to their north London rivals in 2001 can be described. He had after all stated that he would never play for Arsenal. Despite being labelled ‘Judas’ by Spurs fans who hated him for the rest of his career, he has maintained that he doesn’t regret his decision.
This is perhaps because of the Premier League and FA Cup titles he won in his first season with Arsenal. He also played a great role in Arsenal’s title win in the 2003-04 season, in which they were undefeated. He left for Portsmouth in 2006 having won two Premier League and three FA Cup titles but later returned to Arsenal for a brief stint in 2010.
5 Esteban Cambiasso - Real Madrid to Inter Milan/Inter Milan to Leicester City
Inter Milan had Real Madrid’s Galactico policy to thank for Cambiasso’s availability in 2004. The midfielder’s decade at Inter Milan saw him win five Serie A titles, four Coppa Italias and the UEFA Champions League. He played a key role in the 2010 Champions League victory as Inter became one of the few teams to win the elusive treble.
Leicester City had just been promoted to the Premier League when he joined them after being released by Inter in 2014. His impressive performances helped Leicester avoid relegation and led to the club offering him a new contract which he turned down and instead joined Olympiacos on another free transfer in 2015.
4 Cafu - Roma to AC Milan
Cafu had signed a pre-contract agreement to move to Japan with Yokohama Marinos after reaching the end of his contract with Roma in 2003, but later changed his mind. AC Milan were quick to sign him when they learnt about this. The two-time World Cup winner and Brazil’s most capped player continued to bolster his reputation as one of the best attacking defenders in the world and helped Milan win the Serie A title, UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup before his retirement in 2008.
3 Roberto Baggio - AC Milan to Bologna/Inter Milan to Brescia
After losing his place at AC Milan, Baggio left for Bologna in 1997. He found his form at there and managed to score 22 goals in the Serie A. His performance helped him earn a place in Italy’s 1998 World Cup squad and he signed with Inter Milan after the tournament. He was benched for most of his second season at Inter so he left for Brescia in 2000 on another free transfer. He maintained a high level of performance and Brescia were never relegated during his four years with them.
2 Robert Lewandowski - Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich
During his four years at Borussia Dortmund, Lewandowski established himself as one of the best strikers in Europe and his imminent departure to rivals Bayern Munich was a bitter pill to swallow for the club. His move to Bayern in 2014 saw them comfortably win the Bundesliga whereas Dortmund struggled for much of the season. The 2015-16 season is proving to be one of his best and he set multiple records when he came on as a substitute in a game against Wolfsburg and scored five goals in 8 minutes and 59 seconds. Lewandowski was a major coup for Bayern and he won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
1 Andrea Pirlo - AC Milan to Juventus
In 2011, AC Milan decided not to renew Andrea Pirlo’s contract enabling Juventus to sign him on a free transfer. Milan had just won the Serie A title and Pirlo whose appearances in the team had been reduced was thought to be past his best. The best was yet to come however for while Milan declined, Pirlo helped Juventus win four consecutive Serie A titles.
While at Juventus, Pirlo cemented his reputation as a free kick specialist and one of the world’s best midfielders before moving to MLS club New York City FC. It’s not hard to see why Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon described Pirlo’s transfer as the signing of the century and Milan probably agree, ruefully that is.
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