What is a free transfer in football? Bosman ruling explained

Jean-Marc Bosman took a stand in 1995 and changed football forever
Jean-Marc Bosman took a stand in 1995 and changed football forever / STF/GettyImages

The landscape of football changed dramatically in 1995 when little known Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman took a stand.

We're used to seeing players depart for free following the expiry of their contracts in the modern day, but such freedom was only made possible thanks to Bosman.

The 1995 ruling not only altered the dynamic of the transfer market, but an on-field power shift also followed. Louis van Gaal's Ajax were Europe's dominant force, reaching back-to-back Champions League finals either side of the ruling, before quickly fading into relative obscurity.

Their stars exited freely to clubs across the continent, as the ruling indirectly led to a higher concentration of talent at the very top of European football.

Here's everything you need to know about the revolutionary Bosman ruling.

What was the Bosman ruling?

Bosman reached the end of his RFC Liege contract in 1990 and was keen to join French side Dunkerque. However, his desired move never materialised as Dunkerque failed to agree to terms with RFC Liege.

As he was no longer a first teamer, the Belgian club subsequently cut Bosman's wages by 70% which forced the player to take action. He took his case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg – where he sued his Belgian employers for restraint of trade.

And thus, in 1995, a ruling was passed regarding the free movement of labour for professional footballers, with restrictions lifted on players in the EU when it came to transfer fees being paid for those working without a contract.

What is a free transfer?

The Bosman ruling essentially allowed footballers to join other clubs for free following the expiration of their contract.

Players out of contract have the luxury of moving wherever they want. Their previous employer has no say. Typically, players that join clubs for no transfer fee garner lucrative salaries and generous signing-on fees.

What else did the Bosman ruling change?

The 'three-plus-two' rule was also ditched in the wake of the ruling. This had prevented teams from using more than three foreign players in any continental squad, while also having to include at least two that had graduated through the club’s youth ranks.

After the ruling, sides were free to play as many EU players as they liked, with restrictions only being imposed when it comes to non-EU footballers.

This was another major factor in the aforementioned Ajax side's decline, with Serie A's richest clubs splashing the cash to secure the continent's most impressive talent.