Fifa fights for transfer system

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The Independent Football

The Premier League said yesterday it would do everything in its power to fight a legal challenge in the European courts that could end football's transfer system and give players the right to move whenever they choose, regardless of whether they are under contract.

The Premier League said yesterday it would do everything in its power to fight a legal challenge in the European courts that could end football's transfer system and give players the right to move whenever they choose, regardless of whether they are under contract.

The League's concern stems from the so-called "Perugia case", which The European Court of Justice is expected to hear next month. The case centres on the Italian club Perugia's refusal to pay a fee for an unnamed player they signed from a Belgian club, where he was under contract.

The European Commission is expected to argue that transfer fees amount to a restraint of free movement, which is contrary to European law. If the court decides that transfer fees are a barrier to free movement, the whole transfer system could collapse.

Michel Zen-Ruffinen, the general secretary of Fifa, world football's governing body, has already voiced his concerns. He said: "If we allow a player to leave a team while under contract without any compensation then that's the end. It would be a disaster."

A decision in favour of Perugia would have far-reaching consequences for football, not least that contracts would effectively be rendered meaningless and that small clubs reliant on transfer income will go out of business.

Finding alternatives to the transfer system - such as including Spanish-style buy-out clauses in all contracts or encouraging clubs to take out injunctions against players who leave when under contract - will entail negotiating a legal minefield.

A spokesman for the Premier League said: "We are working vigorously with the Fifa and Uefa [football's European governing body] and the Football Association to face any potential challenge to the transfer system and any possible subsequent serious ramifications for the game."

Matters are likely to be further complicated by a separate EU case, also due to be heard soon, which is being brought by a Hungarian, Tibor Balog, formerly of Charleroi in Belgium. He is seeking freedom of movement within Europe for non-EU players who hail from countries that have trade agreements with the EU.

Not since Jean-Marc Bosman won the right, in 1995, for EU players to move within Europe for no fee when out of contract have legal proceedings threatened to alter football so drastically. The fall-out from the Bosman case has included the mass movement of players within European leagues and a wage spiral initially caused by clubs not having to pay transfer fees.

Fifa and Uefa have long argued that football should be exempt from some of the Treaty of Rome's rules because sport is a special industry.

"We have to find a solution to this problem and find a way of binding a player to a club," Zen-Ruffinen said. "Otherwise a player could literally move clubs every day."

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