Belgian novice Jean Marc Bosman was Europe’s Curt Flood. It has been 15 years since Bosman won his famous ruling in the European Court of Justice – securing free agency status for athletes out of contract and allowing free movement of labour for the EU footballers.
Much has been written about the “Bosman Effect”. The total re-shaping of the demographic landscape at the high end of the game. But I would actually like to focus onÂ Bosman Effect on the football field -the dramatic rise in the quality of defenders.
When European clubs were allowed to employ only 2-3 imports, they naturally opted for strikers and attacking midfielders in about 90% of the cases. Only five foreign based defensive players started in the five European finals preceding the ruling between 1991 and 1995. By comparison â€“ there were five defensive foreign players in the line-up of current champ, Inter Milan for the 2010 final against Bayern Munich.
One of them, Brazilian Douglas Maicon, is my candidate for European Football Player of the 21st Century award. Why? Because Maicon is the kind of player we would not have seen in the 20th Century.
A young Maicon in the 1980′s, aspiring to get a rich contract in Europe would have tailored his game Â to the attacking winger position. His illustrious compatriots, Carlos Alberto or Nilton Santos, were the world’s greatest attacking wing-backs but never played for European clubs.
Maicon is the archetype. Roberto Carlos, who moved to play in Europe during the summer of the Bosman ruling, was the prototype. Barcelona’s Danny Alves or Manchester United’s Patrice Evra are other prime examples of the Uber-defender of the Bosman era.
Things are different at the front. People often think we are witnessing anÂ unprecedented concentration of talent in a few super-clubs. But Real Madrid’s attacking line of the 50s – Di Stefano, Gento, Puskas and Copa – would match any modern day lineup. The same can be said on Stoichkov-Romario-Hagi-Laudrup of Barcelona’s Dream Team of the Early 90s. United of the late 60s had 3 Balon d’Or Â winners in Best, Charlton and Law. Something never emulated in the modern English game.
But Maicon is a player that Europe of the pre-Bosman era could have never imagined.
By contrast, the Bosman ruling has nothing to do with the great “Tiki-Taka” football of the current Barcelona team. This team could have been assembled in the pre-Bosman rules.
Barcelona is a direct descendent of Cruyf’s Ajax and Shankley’s Liverpool and of Ajax in the mid-1990s. If it wasn’t for Bosman, Van Gaal’s team would have ruled the continent for 6-7 years, but their brand of football was disassembled by the collapse of national boundaries within Europe. It’s lineup raided by major foreign clubs. The pass-and-move would only resurface in Catalonia around 2008.
If anything, Bosman brought about a delay to this natural evolution.