18 Oct 2016

Call to ban football transfer system

From Nine To Noon, 9:29 am on 18 October 2016

The transfer system in professional football inevitably leads to corruption and should be abolished, a sports economist says.
Two weeks ago The Telegraph in the UK reported an undercover sting which revealed allegations that eight English Premier League managers were willing to take bribes to facilitate player transfer deals.

England manager Sam Allardyce was embroiled in the sting and lost his job after secret recordings made by The Telegraph were handed over to the police.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi Photo: Photosport

Sports economist Stefan Szymanski wrote recently inThe Telegraph that the current system governing football transfers is unique and is akin to trafficking.

To clean up football once and for all, the transfer system must be scrapped, he wrote.

"Your current employer has the ability to control whether you leave and go to work for someone else, and they do that because they own something called your registration.

"Every professional has to be registered, when you move your registration has to move with you and whilst under contract your club is entitled to demand payment for your registration."

Football's peculiar transfer system lends itself to corruption, he says.
"If you want a new job you don't have to get your employer's permission, your new employer doesn't have to pay a fee and that's really where the corruption in football is coming from."

The current football system governing the transfer of football players has been in place since 1995.The former system, which had been in place for 100 years, was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice.
"Something called the Bosman decision abolished the old system and led to a negotiation between the European Commission and FIFA to establish a new system."

Stefan Szymanski

Stefan Szymanski Photo: Supplied

"And that is the system that established the transfer windows as well as all other paraphernalia."

But while this was going on the players were never consulted, he says.

"That's what's really scandalous about all this, the people whose livelihoods are at stake do not have a say in how the system runs.

"If some organisation has a say in whether you can move, it starts to become a negotiation over who gets to agree.Tthat's when you begin to get calls for a payoff – 'You want me to make this smooth and go through easier put a few quid my way'. That's how the corruption starts."    

Stefan says because employment in football is not between an employer and employee but multiple parties "all sorts of side payments to all sorts of individuals who might get in on the deal" are paid.

"If it was anybody else we would call it trafficking."

This 'trafficking' tends to elicit little sympathy from the public given the astronomical sums paid to football's top stars. But that is not the whole story, he says.

"The vast majority of professional footballers make very little money."

Stefan estimates that out of 60,000 professional players worldwide half earn less than £50,000.

"And they are living under this intolerable system where effectively somebody else has a veto over their right to ply their trade."

He says the rest of the world doesn't have a transfer system and works perfectly fine.

"Football authorities have created this myth that without a transfer system things won't work, but of course they will."

A more open system such as the one favoured by US professional sports leagues would work far better, he says.

"It would help [football] clubs behave more carefully - the clubs are their own biggest enemies. That would require them to make more sensible deals."

Stefan Szymanski is a professor of sport management at the University of Michigan and the author of five books, including the bestseller Soccernomics.