Football clubs can claim compensation for losing youngsters rules ECJ - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Football clubs can claim compensation for losing youngsters rules ECJ

Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Football clubs who feel that their developing youth players have been “snatched away” from them by other clubs will now be able to seek compensation if they go on to sign their first contract with a team in another EU country, thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice today.

Olivier Bernard during his first spell at Newcastle United (Photo: verdict comes to conclude the case involving the French international player Olivier Bernard, above, now 29, who in 2000 when aged 20 signed professional terms with English club Newcastle United despite having undergone a three-year youth training scheme with French team Olympique Lyonnais.

The ruling could change the way business is done in the football transfer market - perhaps he will become a modern day Jean-Marc Bosman?

As stated in the French Professional Football Charter at the time, promising players aged 16-22 (known as a "joueur espoir") were required to sign their first contract with the professional club which trained them if offered a contract at the end of their training.

If they chose not to, amazingly they were barred for three years from signing with another French club.

But Bernard, instead of signing with the former French champions Lyon, signed a deal with the English club, and challenged a subsequent French court ruling that he and Newcastle were equally liable to compensate Lyon €53,000 (£48,000) – the sum equivalent to his first-year salary if he had taken up the contract in Lyon.

European Court of Justice (Photo: EU)Both the player and Newcastle then consequently appealed against this ruling which is why the French appeal court asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, left, to rule whether it should be the trainee footballer that is required to pay damages if he signs with a professional club in another EU country breached EU law (which was the case in the UK).

Today in its verdict, the ECJ declared that the French rule on a “joueur espoir" was a clear restriction on the freedom of movement for workers, including footballers.

However, the restrictions could be justified under certain circumstances, such as the need to encourage recruitment and training of young professional players.

"In view of the considerable social importance of sporting activities, and in particular football in the EU, the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players must be accepted as legitimate,” it read.

"In the court's view, the prospect of receiving training fees is likely to encourage football clubs to seek new talent and train young players.

As a result of the case, FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, has adopted new rules under which club the, and not the player, will pay any compensation due.

The amount is calculated on the cost of training a player, adjusted by the ratio of trainees needed to produce one professional player.

Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson told the BBC: "The Premier League has always supported the principle of proportionate compensation for young players and is pleased to see the judge has recognised that a regulated environment for the transfer of young players is desirable."

The Premier League has, of course, been faced with this matter a couple of times in recent months as both Chelsea and Manchester United have both found themselves in dispute with French clubs over young players that moved to the Premier League clubs.

Chelsea were hit with a transfer ban covering two windows after being adjudged guilty of inducing Gael Kakuta to break his contract with RC Lens in 2007 – although this was subsequently lifted on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. (But even after the transfer ban was lifted, Chelsea paid £113,000 in compensation to Lens towards the costs of developing the French winger.)

Paul Pogba (Photo: Manchester United)FIFA themselves were called in to deal with Manchester United’s case, deciding to rule in the Red Devil’s favour green-flagging the signing of 16-year-old Paul Pogba after French club Le Havre had claimed that they had agreed a contract with the midfielder for the current season before he went to Old Trafford.

Back then, FIFA ruled that because of the player’s age, Le Havre could not have got an agreement for the teenager to sign a professional contract.

As for Olivier Bernard: well he stayed with Newcastle until 2005, when he left after a dispute over contract negotiations. He rejoined a year later, but left again in May 2007. He currently trains with Toronto FC over the pond in Canada…

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