Bosman the man for Hall seasons

Football: Simon O'Hagan finds support for a likely new transfer system in Newcastle
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The Independent Online
THE majority of people in football would prefer not to remember Jean-Marc Bosman, but that will be difficult come the end of this week when the European Court of Justice is expected formally to ratify the judgment that found in the Belgian's favour in September and signal the end of the transfer system as we know it.

But amid all the cries of horror - and, it must be said, the soothing words of those who have argued that nothing really will change - one leading football figure has stood out in his support of Bosman, the Newcastle United chairman Sir John Hall. Last month Sir John found himself in the minority when he put his views at a meeting in Brussels organised by the sports committee of members of the European Parliament.

The man who has built a sporting empire on Tyneside sees the same business principles underpinning the game's future as would apply in any other walk of life: freedom of movement at the end of a player's contract; no limit on the number of foreigners; investment in training; the need for more reliable sources of income than transfers offer.

"Like everyone else when I first heard about Bosman, I thought this is terrible," Sir John said last week. "I had to find out about it myself. So I went to France where they've had freedom of movement for 10 years and the way it works there is you've got players on longer contracts, say four years, and you get rid of them after three, when he still has some residual value. You never let a player get to the end of his contract. So transfer fees won't disappear altogether, but they'll be way down. It's only a guess, but at the top of the market, I think an pounds 8m player now would go for about pounds 4m."

The quota of foreign players that club sides are allowed, which restricts the free movement of EU nationals and was something Bosman contested, has itself contributed to inflationary fees, Sir John believes. "One of the reasons that we got as much as pounds 7m for Andy Cole when he went to Manchester United was because he was English," he said. "That created a situation right through football where clubs were suddenly asking much more for players. Bosman will bring balance to inflated fees."

This is all very well for Newcastle, where the potential for non-transfer earnings is huge, but what about the smaller clubs? Sir John disputes the part transfer income plays at the bottom end of the market. "If you look at where the really big money has circulated in the last five years it's all been in the Premiership or the top of the First Division. The trickle-down effect is a bit of myth."

Television money, pounds 125m of which has just gone to Endsleigh League, will help compensate those who might now miss out on transfer income. "That's new money coming into the sport. That's what we want to encourage. Not old money just rotating between the same clubs."

Sir John says Newcastle have their plans. "We'll be able to take advantage of the situation." And with their football academy expected to be open within a year, the club is well placed to uncover local talent from an early age. That is the kind of investment clubs should be making, Sir John believes. "That is what this argument is really all about. Why are England 24th in the Fifa world rankings? Because it's been starved of capital for years. The old system's failed."

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