Back in the summer of 2001 Geoffrey Richmond – in his position on the board of the Football League – offered a deal to the clubs. For a three week period no one would make a transfer while the contracts for the entire playing squads of all teams were ripped up and new ones written that took into account the failure of ITV Digital and attempted to circumnavigated the collapse in transfer fees that would bring about wide spread administration.
As a name Andy Webster is less exotic than Jean-Marc Bosman but it will be written in football history in the same way. Webster’s move from Hearts to Wigan – buying up his own contract after the protected period FIFA has built into it’s contract model – will be no less revolutionary for football.
Webster tested the rule in the post-Bosman FIFA wide contract model that said that for players under 28 the protected period – which is to say the time where a player is tied to the club he signed a contract with – is three years and after serving a fifteen day notice period the player is free to leave for a club in another country which when joining Paul Jewell’s Wigan was exactly what Andy Webster did.
So for the balance of his contract as dictated by the wage he would have been paid had he stayed Webster left and while Hearts screamed that they would have charged seven figures for the player they got just £625,000.
Today Andy Webster tomorrow whom? Frank Lampard’s much talked about move to Barcelona would be a snip for the Catalans if all they had to do with multiple Lampard’s wage to the years left on his contract rather than waiting to see how much the club that needs no more money want for it’s talisman. The likes of Xabi Alonso, Cesc Febregas et al could see a short cut to a way home.
The Premiership, however, is a long way away from League Two and such matters would not affect City in the short term. With two of the ninety-two heading in administration this week football can ill afford another transfer value meltdown and such a black hole of money is the last thing that financially precarious City need right now.
Mark Bower’s move to Burnley will probably keep the coffers full for another year but if Burnley cannot sell to a lower Premiership club who ca not sell to a higher club then the whole chain falls apart.
So what is to be done?
The Premiership chairmen need to take up the same spirit that Geoffrey Richmond and his Coventry co-hort and similarly reviled chairman Bryan Richardson had and find a way for the club’s to address this hole in the contract law to ensure that the trickle down of transfer fees does not end. Perhaps the moves that Richmond et al proposed would be too drastic, to risky, for the clubs but similar thinking needs to be employed as part one of this solution. The Spanish league has had for many years built-in buyout clauses that allow a player to leave for a price agreed at the start of the contract.
For the second part when “doing a Webster” becomes the new Bosman football clubs need to ensure that they do not address the compensation and cheaper players issue by piling the funds into the contracts making them prohibitively expensive to buy out but further fueling wage inflation from the ludicrous to the impossible.
Richmond and co failed in their proposal and as a result Bradford City and 34 other clubs came close to going out of business. Think of football as an injured player limping until he reaches half time. How many more challenges is he going to take before we send on a physio? How many more before the injury ends his career?