New transfer system to fuel player power

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The English game's transfer system is set to be overhauled this summer, with all out-of-contract players over the age of 24 allowed to change clubs without a transfer fee.

The change would be certain to have far-reaching effects. Clubs will be more anxious than ever to put their better players on long contracts, which in turn could lead to inflation in players' wages, while transfer fees paid to smaller clubs could shrink substantially.

News of the imminent change has already started to affect the transfer market. Most big clubs have put their best men on long-term contracts, but many of those with players whose deals run out this summer are considering selling them now, rather than see them leave without compensation at the end of the season.

The players, meanwhile, are likely to be tempted to wait until the summer. Chelsea's Mark Stein, for example, currently on loan at Stoke and valued at pounds 1m, has only to wait until the end of June and can then move for free.

The proposed change is outlined in a working paper produced by Graham Kelly, the Football Association's chief executive, and distributed in the last few days to representative bodies within the game.

The move is a direct consequence of last year's Bosman ruling by the European Court, which gave out-of-contract players the right to move to another country without a transfer fee.

In the wake of the ruling, Uefa, the European game's governing body, was put under pressure in legal quarters to scrap the system of transfer fees in its entirety. However, it has been felt within the game that a transfer system had to be kept in order to give smaller clubs the incentive to develop young players.

Under present rules in Britain, a player at the end of his contract has two choices if he wants to move. If he goes abroad, he is free to negotiate his move and his former club is not entitled to a fee. If he stays in Britain he can negotiate a move, but the recruiting club either has to agree a fee with the selling club or the fee is decided by a transfer tribunal.

With the new proposals, an out-of-contract player of any age could still move abroad without a fee. Players under 24 - whether in or out of contract - would be subject to transfer fees, as would players under contract over the age of 24. Those out of contract and over 24 would be able to move without a fee.

Uefa would like to have such a system - which is based on a scheme that has operated successfully in France for several years - in place across the whole of Europe.

The Professional Footballers' Association and most clubs in England support the move, although there may be some objections from those clubs with several players out of contract this summer.

The PFA fears that another test case could destroy the transfer system in its entirety. In Scotland, for example, an Airdrie player, Chris Honour, is challenging the validity of his contract through the courts.

The Scottish PFA prefers a cut-off point at the age of 21 rather than 24 and will seek its members' opinions over the next fortnight.

Many of Scotland's leading players - for example, Davie Robertson, the Rangers left-back - are out of contract this summer and could become prime targets for English clubs.