In effect, they have been doing what, as a result of the Bosman case, could become the norm for those clubs with the resources to switch from buying expensively to offering players almost the equivalent in personal terms - something the smaller clubs are unable to do.
This season's Premiership kicked off with a record number of foreigners, from 35 countries, attracted by competitive personal inducements. Some came with expensive transfer fees attached (pounds 7.5m for Dennis Bergkamp, for instance), but many more were imported comparatively cheaply because they were coming to their sell-by date and the end of their contracts. David Ginola and Ruud Gullit would not be facing each other for Newcastle United and Chelsea this afternoon were it not for their personal terms.
Gullit says all the right things about wanting to play in the "toughest" league in the world and being persuaded by Glenn Hoddle that he could return to being a free-ranging sweeper. "I couldn't believe he was on a free transfer," Hoddle said, and insists that Gullit never mentioned money. Someone must have done some smart talking because there was a lot of money involved, all of it going into the player's account. The estimate is pounds 15,000 a week. Small wonder agents welcome the proposed abandoning of the transfer market.
Gullit was out of contract with Sampdoria, and there was the problem of dodgy knees and age - he was 33 earlier this month. Sampdoria thought they no longer had much of an asset.
The buying of Ginola was more complicated. Although an erratic player, and 28, he is, at his best, still a player of breathtaking skill, and was wanted by a number of clubs including Bayern Munich and Barcelona, as well as Celtic. When Newcastle first approached him at Paris St Germain his wage demands were almost as absurd as those of Roberto Baggio, who had told them he wanted pounds 50,000 a week.
Ginola reduced his personal terms by nearly half but with time still on his contract and offers on the table, Paris SG insisted on a fee of pounds 2.5m, nominal by today's standards. In France players have had freedom to move at the end of their cont- racts since 1971; PSG knew that if they were to make money he had to be transferred quickly.
With help from their chairman, Sir John Hall, Newcastle have been able to spend some pounds 14m on transfer fees and offer newcomers pounds 10,000 a week and more. He admits the cost cannot be justified simply in increased attendance figures but says the improved stature of the club has brought in large amounts in other ways. One example: half a million replica kits have been sold this year.
Silvio Berlusconi, owner of Milan, remarked that with the lira doing badly against the pound he could see a lot more Italian- based players in the Premiership. And that was his prediction even before the Bosman case.Reuse content