Football: Quick change for transfers

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Uefa, European football's ruling body, said yesterday that it wanted to have a new transfer system in place across the whole of Europe by the start of next season.

As the Independent revealed yesterday, plans to introduce changes in Britain are already well advanced. Under a new system outlined in a Football Association discussion paper, out-of-contract players over the age of 24 will be free to move to new clubs without transfer fees. As a result of the Bosman ruling last year, players out of contract already have the right to move without a fee to a club in another European country.

Although the FA said yesterday that it did not believe a new system would be in place this year, a Uefa spokesman said: "The idea is to have a new system before the new season. Obviously that is because there are a lot of transfers in Europe in the summer."

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said that the Bosman ruling had made change inevitable. "We simply can't ignore European law," he said. "The feeling is that any challenge to the domestic system would inevitably succeed and it would be naive to think that the current system can stay in place."

Taylor agreed that smaller clubs would be worried by the proposals, with players approaching the end of their contract reluctant to sign another one if they could see the prospect of negotiating their own moves without transfer fees.

The news was greeted enthusiastically by players' agents. One of them, Eric Hall, said: "I never got much of a Christmas present, but I got it today. This is a monster, monster present.

"It's about time too. When a contract's at an end, it's at an end, in football or showbusiness or whatever, it's up for negotiation. For me, it gives us more deals to do. The wages will go up and the money will go where it should - to the stars, the players."

He added that some people will argue that small clubs will suffer. "Well, I say, it's hard cheese if small clubs go out of business. They should be shrewder in their judgements and manage their affairs better."

However, less affluent clubs, unable to commit themselves to long-term contracts for players, were less enthusiastic. Bill Lodey, the secretary of Port Vale, said: "We've got players we've only just taken on at 23 and if we spend time nurturing them, only for them to leave freely, it's disappointing."