Transfer (association football)
In professional football, a transfer is the action taken whenever a player under contract moves between clubs. It refers to the transferring of a player's registration from one association football club to another. In general, the players can only be transferred during a transfer window and according to the rules set by a governing body. Usually some sort of compensation is paid for the player's rights, which is known as a transfer fee. When a player moves from one club to another, his old contract is terminated and he negotiates a new one with the club he is moving to, unlike in American, Canadian and Australian sports, where teams essentially trade existing player contracts. However, in some cases, transfers can function in a similar manner to player trades, as teams can offer another player on their squad as part of the compensation.
As well as this type of regular transfer, which results in the player being owned by one club, other forms of transfer are used throughout South America and southern Europe. Co-ownership is a system whereby a club will buy 50% of the rights of a players' contract for one year and pay the wages, while also deciding which of the two clubs he will play for. At the end of the year, both clubs can choose to place a bid in an auction, where the highest bid wins. The co-ownership of Alessio Cerci by Torino and Fiorentina proved fruitful for Cerci and Torino, who had paid €2.5m for the first 50%, and picked up the remainder of his contract after a successful year for just €3.8m. The practice has proved a controversial issue for Martin Samuel, who described it as being similar to a "cattle market".
Third party ownership is ownership of a player's economic rights by third-party sources, such as football agents, sports-management agencies, or other investors. The transfer of Carlos Tevez to Manchester City for £47m in 2009 was controversial for the part played by third-party owner Media Sports Investment.
Another method of transfer is a loan. This is where a player is allowed to temporarily play for a club other than the one he is currently contracted to. Loan deals may last from a few weeks to all season-long and can also be for a few seasons. Rarely, a loan of a player can be included in the transfer of another player e.g. the transfer of Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester United for £31m in 2008 included the loan of Fraizer Campbell in the opposite direction.
The concept of a football transfer first came into existence in England after The Football Association introduced player registration sometime after 1885. Before that, a player could agree to play one or more games for any football club. After the FA recognised professionalism in 1885, it sought to control professional players by introducing a player registration system. Players had to register with a club each season, even if he remained with the same club from the season before. A player was not allowed to play until he was registered for that season. Once a player was registered with a club, he was not allowed to be registered with or play for another club during the same season without the permission of the FA and the club that held his registration. The players however, were free to join another club before the start of each season, even if their former club wished to retain them.
Sometime after the Football League was formed in 1888, the Football League decided that restrictions had to be placed on the ability of richer clubs to lure players from other clubs to prevent the league being dominated by a handful of clubs. From the start of the 1893–94 season onwards, once a player was registered with a Football League club, he could not be registered with any other club, even in subsequent seasons, without the permission of the club he was registered with. It applied even if the player's annual contract with the club holding his registration was not renewed after it expired. The club was not obliged to play him and, without a contract, the player was not entitled to receive a salary. Nevertheless, if the club refused to release his registration, the player could not play for any other Football League club. Football League clubs soon came to realize that they could demand and earn a transfer fee from any other Football League club as consideration for agreeing to release or transfer the player's registration.
In 1912, Charles Sutcliffe helped establish the legality of this "retain-and-transfer system" when he successfully represented the club Aston Villa during the Kingaby case. Former player, Herbert Kingaby had brought legal proceedings against Villa for preventing him from playing. Erroneous strategy by Kingaby's counsel resulted in the suit being dismissed.
In England, the "retain" aspect of the system was removed after a decision by the High Court in 1963 in Eastham vs. Newcastle United that it was unreasonable. The transfer system remained unchanged until the Bosman ruling. The ruling is named after Jean-Marc Bosman, a former Belgian footballer, who, in 1990, was registered with Belgian Cup winners R.F.C. de Liège. His contract had run out he was looking to move to French team Dunkerque, but they refused to pay the transfer fee of £500k that Liege were asking for. Bosman was left in limbo and his wages were cut by 75% due to him not playing. After a lengthy legal battle, Bosman won his case on 15 December 1995, when the European Court of Justice ruled that players should legally be free to move when their contract expired.
The first high-profile "Bosman transfer" was Edgar Davids, who departed Ajax for A.C. Milan, but he lasted just one year in Milan before moving to rivals Juventus for a fee of over £5m. The same summer, Luis Enrique made the controversial decision to let his Real Madrid contract run down by signing for rivals Barcelona. In 1999, Steve McManaman departed his boyhood club Liverpool for Real Madrid, while Sol Campbell was arguably the most controversial Bosman transfer of all time when he moved from Tottenham Hotspur to fierce rivals Arsenal. In 2014, it was announced that Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski will leave the club for Bayern Munich in the summer when his contract expires.
Another impact the case had was the rules regarding foreign players. Before the ruling was made, clubs throughout Europe were limited to the number of foreign players they could employ, and could only play a maximum of three in European competition. The ruling ensured a team could now choose to play a team of 11 foreign players if they wanted, FIFA noted that they were "disappointed" in the ruling. as was the case when Chelsea became the first team to play a team of 11 foreign players. By 2007, the percentage of foreign players in England and Germany had reached 57%, compared with 39% in Spain and France, and 30% in Italy. The last team to field an all-English starting line-up was Aston Villa, ten months before Chelsea's all-foreign starting eleven.
Although there were leagues already implementing the practice, UEFA decided to enforce a continental transfer window in time for the 2002-03 season. UEFA chief executive Gerhard Aigner said that part of the reason behind making the transfer window compulsory was to "stop the confusion that has followed Bosman", and, with regards to it possibly damaging smaller clubs financially, he said that it didn't make sense that clubs would "depend on the transfer of a single player to survive the season". From 2002 to the present day, most leagues around Europe have two windows in which players may be purchased; end of the season to 31 August, and then for the whole of January. In England, the club chairmen felt they were "reluctantly being forced" to accept the proposal, and FIFA relented somewhat by relaxing the rules regarding out-of-contract players, meaning that they could be signed up to a new club at any time.
In 2013, FIFPro, which is the worldwide representative organisation for 65,000 professional football players, launched a legal challenge against the transfer system. FIFPro president Phillipe Piat said "the transfer system fails 99% of players around the world, it fails football as an industry and it fails the world's most beloved game". According to FIFPro's European president Bobby Barnes, 28% of the money from a transfer fee is paid to agents, and that many players are not paid on time or at all. He claims this leads to these players being "vulnerable targets of crime syndicates, who instigate match-fixing and threaten the very existence of credible football competitions". Writing for the BBC, Matt Slater said "professional footballers do not enjoy the same freedoms that almost every other EU worker does", and that "players look at US sport, and wonder why their career prospects are still constrained by transfer fees and compensation costs". Barnes argues that "the system encourages speculative, unsustainable, immoral and illegal investment models like third-party ownership of players".
Players will commonly undergo a medical examination and/or physical fitness test before a transfer can be completed. Occasionally, previously unknown medical problems will be detected, potentially jeopardizing the transfer or the size of the fee.
According to footballer Shaun Derry, his first medical was as basic as him bending over to touch his toes to check the stability in his knees, but, as the knowledge of sports science has evolved, the medical now involves MRI scans, and, according to former Nottingham Forest physiotherapist Gary Fleming, ECG's are also performed to check for any problems with the heart. The person performing the medical will check all the major joints, ligaments, and the players sight. The transfer of George Boyd from Peterborough United to Nottingham Forest collapsed in 2013 due to an inconclusive eye test. A player can fail a medical simply by being unfit, as was the case when Inter Milan tried to sign John Carew.
The first player to ever be transferred for a fee of over £100 was Scottish striker Willie Groves when he made the switch from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa in 1893, eight years after the legalisation of professionalism in the sport. It took just twelve years for the figure to become £1000, when Sunderland striker Alf Common moved to Middlesbrough.
It wasn't until 1928 that the first five-figure transfer took place. David Jack of Bolton Wanderers was the subject of interest from Arsenal, and in order to negotiate the fee down, Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman got the Bolton representatives drunk. Arsenal paid £10,890 after Bolton had asked for £13k, which was double the previous record made when Sunderland signed Burnley's Bob Kelly a fee of for £6,500.
The first player from outside Great Britain to break the record was Bernabé Ferreyra, a player known as La Fiera for his powerful shot. His 1932 transfer from Tigre to River Plate cost £23k, and the record would last for 17 years (the longest the record has lasted) until it was broken by Manchester United's sale of Johnny Morris to Derby County for £24k in March 1949. The record was broken seven further times between 1949 and 1961, when Luis Suárez was sold by FC Barcelona to Inter Milan for £152k, becoming the first ever player sold for more than £100k.
In 1968, Pietro Anastasi became the first £500k player when Juventus purchased him from Varese, which was followed seven years later with Giuseppe Savoldi becoming the first million pound player when he transferred from Bologna to Napoli.
The only player to twice be transferred for world record fees is Diego Maradona. His transfers from Boca Juniors to Barcelona for £3m, and then to Napoli for £5m, both broke the record in 1982 and 1984 respectively.
In the space of 61 days in 1992, three transfers broke the record, all by Italian clubs: Jean-Pierre Papin transferred from Marseille to A.C. Milan, becoming the first ever £10m player. Almost immediately, rivals Juventus topped that with the signing of Gianluca Vialli for a fee of £12m from Sampdoria. Milan then completed the signing of Gianluigi Lentini for a fee of £13m which stood as the record for three years.
The 1996 transfer of Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United, for a fee of £15m, kickstarted a year-by-year succession of record breaking transfers: Ronaldo moved the following year to Inter Milan from FC Barcelona for a fee of £17m, which was followed in 1998 by the shock transfer of his fellow countryman Denílson from São Paulo to Real Betis for a fee of approximately £21m.
In 1999 and 2000, Italian clubs returned to their record-breaking ways, with Christian Vieri transferring from Lazio to Inter Milan for £28m, while Hernán Crespo's transfer from Parma to Lazio ensured he became the first player to cost more than £30m. The transfer prompted the BBC to ask "has the world gone mad"?
It took two weeks for the record to be broken when Luís Figo made a controversial £37m move from Barcelona to rivals Real Madrid. Since then, Real Madrid have always held the record, with the only players to subsequently break the record being Zinedine Zidane in 2001 when signed for £46m from Juventus, the £80m transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009, and Gareth Bale in 2013, who became the first player to cost €100m when he transferred from Tottenham Hotspur.
There have been occasions when a world-record bid has been made but the transfer was never completed. In 2003, shortly after Roman Abramovich had taken over Chelsea, the club made a bid of £71.4m (€101.5m) for Real Madrid's Raúl which was rejected, and in 2009, shortly having been taken over by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Manchester City made a bid of £100m (€111m) for A.C. Milan's Kaká. The bid was accepted, but after deliberating over the move for a week, Kaká turned down the transfer despite being offered weekly wages of £500k.
The sharp rise in transfer fees since the 1990s, and in particular into the 3rd millennium has been attributed primarily to a large rise in television rights fees and sponsorship. For example, in 2013, new broadcaster BT Sport announced they had agreed to pay £897m over a three year period to gain exclusive broadcast rights to UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League,
Transfer fees are not always officially confirmed by the transacting clubs, and figures published by unofficial sources may or may not take into account various fees such as those paid to agents or a third-party, performance related elements of the fee, and the notional value of any players included in part exchange. This leads to different figures being given by different sources. Performance related clauses have become more common in recent years, meaning that it is harder to produce definitive lists of the largest transfer fees than was the case in the past. For example, the 2004 transfer of Wayne Rooney from Everton to Manchester United cost an initial fee of £20m that rose to £27m due to the amount of appearances he made and the number of trophies he won with the club.
The following tables show the highest transfer fees ever paid in euro for players and managers. The first features the top 50 most expensive transfers involving players, and contains six transfers which broke the world transfer record: those of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luís Figo, Hernán Crespo and Christian Vieri all broke the record. The second list shows the top 20 most expensive transfers involving managers. When a manager moves from one club to another, it usually involves a small figure of compensation being paid, and the figure is rarely released publicly. Because of this, there have only been 20 managers who have ever cost more than £1 million in compensation, as detailed in the table.
For football managers, the list is as follows:
A pre-contract is an agreement by the player in question and the club taking his registration at a later date, and became more well known after Bosman ruling in 1995. A club may sign a pre-contract with a player while he is still with another club, by which the player agrees to move to the club at a future date, for example, after his contract with his current club expires.
Another situation may be where the current club is also a party to the pre-contract, and the transfer is conditional, for example, on a fee being agreed between the clubs or terms being agreed between the player and the new club, or the transfer is intended to take effect only after the player reaches a certain age.
The pre-contract is intended to prevent a third club from signing the player while details are still being negotiated or when the future date arrives.
As the player's registration remains with the current club, however, the existence of a pre-contract may be unknown to other clubs who wish to sign the player.
A pre-contract agreement may be broken by the player or the club, as was the case when Ross County midfielder Richard Brittain signed a pre-contract with St. Johnstone. The agreement was made in January 2013, but Brittain changed his mind three months later, citing family reasons. Ross County registered the player as their own in June, and, after discussions with the Scottish FA, St. Johnstone and Ross County came to an agreement to let Brittain stay at the club, with St. Johnstone cancelling the pre-contract agreement if Ross County paid compensation.
Although a pre-contract agreement is usually signed to secure the future registration of a player, an agreement can be reached where the club gaining the registration can pay a fee to the other club to sign the player earlier, as was the case in January 2013, when Schalke 04 midfielder Lewis Holtby, who had six months remaining on his contract, signed a pre-contract agreement with Tottenham Hotspur, but at the end of the month, Tottenham paid a fee of £1.5m to bring the transfer forward.
Under FIFA rules, if a professional football player transfers to another club during the course of a contract, 5% of any transfer fee, not including training compensation paid to his former club, shall be deducted from the total amount of this transfer fee and distributed by the new club as a solidarity contribution to the club(s) involved in his training and education over the years.
This solidarity contribution reflects the number of years he was registered with the relevant club(s) between the seasons of his 12th and 23rd birthdays, as follows:
|Season of birthday||% of compensation||% of total transfer fee|
- Stephen Appiah: solidarity contribution was excluded from the agreed €8M price. Fenerbahçe had an obligation to pay former clubs for additional €0.4M.
- Vitorino Antunes: €1,500,000 x 5% x (5% x 4 seasons + 10% x 4 seasons) = €45,000 to Freamunde from Roma
- Arjen Robben: €500,000 to Groningen from Bayern Munich
- Robinho: €1.805 million to Santos from Manchester City
Training Compensation is compensation to the cost of training the players. In FIFA status:
Training compensation shall be paid to a player’s training club(s): (1) when a player signs his first contract as a professional and (2) each time a professional is transferred until the end of the season of his 23rd birthday."
However, FIFA does not have any power to force member associations to enforce the clause, thus FIFA only has jurisdiction on international transfers for claiming compensation. Youth clubs are ranked by their sizes to receive certain amount of money, which the schedule of rate would be updated periodically, however the rates would also be affected by the new club that signs the player. Newcastle United had to pay compensation for Charles N'Zogbia even though was signed as a free agent.
Disagreement over training compensation sometimes produces legal battles in order to escape the payment, which Matthias Lepiller was signed in 2006 by ACF Fiorentina, however an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport was rejected in 2011, 5 years after Lepiller left the club. Clubs also arranged special transfer agreement in order to lower the actual signing cost. For example, Attila Filkor joined a Maltese club as free agent and immediately sold to Inter. As the schedule of rates between Maltese and Italian top division were different, cost was saved until Filkor's mother club sued Inter to FIFA.
In Italy, Career Premium (Italian: Premio alla carriera) were paid to mother club once the players had make his Serie A debut or Italy U21 debut, for example, Davide Moscardelli. While Preparation Premium (Italian: Premi di Preparazione) were paid to youth clubs when the players signed his first professional contract.
One method of club punishment used by the football governing body FIFA is a ban on transfers.
In 2005, Italian team Roma were given a one year transfer ban by FIFA, beginning on 1 July, when in September 2004, French centre back Philippe Mexès joined the club while still under contract with French team Auxerre. On appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in December 2005, the ban was reduced to end after the January transfer window, but CAS upheld the view that Roma had "not only encouraged Mexès to break his contract with Auxerre, but actively provoked the break."
In April 2009, Swiss team Sion were told by FIFA that they could not sign any players until the 2010 off-season, as punishment for signing Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary from Egyptian team Al-Ahly in 2008 before his contract expired. The club appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who froze the sanction pending a ruling, expected by the end of 2009. The ban was eventually lifted by FIFA.
On 3 September 2009, English team Chelsea were banned from registering any new players in the January and Summer 2010 transfer windows, after FIFA's dispute resolution chamber (DRC) ruled that French winger Gaël Kakuta had breached his contract with French team Lens when he joined Chelsea in 2007, and that Chelsea had induced him to do so. However the ban was quickly lifted by FIFA.
In 2009, English team Portsmouth were banned from signing new players until debts owed to fellow English teams Chelsea and Arsenal were paid with regards to the transfers of Glen Johnson in 2007 and Lassana Diarra in 2008. The ban was lifted 3 months later by the Premier League.
In February 2012, English team Port Vale received a transfer embargo due to an unpaid bill, which meant that the signing of ex-Vale player Chris Birchall could not be completed. Less than two weeks later, Vale entered administration. In November 2012, upon the completion of the purchase of the club by Paul Wildes, Vale exited administration and the embargo was lifted. Soon after, Vale eventually completed the signing of Birchall, who had been playing with American team Columbus Crew.
In 2012, Scottish team Rangers were given a 12-month registration ban by the Scottish Football Association for breaching rule 66 - bringing the game into disrepute. This meant Rangers could still Transfer players into the club, however they could not be registered with the Governing body. This came after Rangers entered administration. Also in 2012, fellow Scottish team Hearts received a 2-month ban for failing to pay the wages of six first-team players and manager John McGlynn on time. In 2013, they received an 8-month ban for entering administration, meaning new players would not be able to registered with the club until February 2014.
In December 2012, English team Bury received a transfer ban after the club took out a short-term loan with the Professional Footballers' Association. The ban was lifted in January 2013 after they repaid the loan, but in February, they received a second embargo after receiving another loan from the PFA. This embargo lasted until May 2013, when the club were taken over by Stewart Day and the loans were repaid, at which point the club had been relegated to League Two and been forced to released 16 players.
In 2013, English team Watford received a 5-month transfer ban for breaching football rules during the period of September 2011 until former owner Laurence Bassini sold the club to Giampaolo Pozzo in June 2012. Watford and Bassini were found guilty of failing to inform the football authorities about financial agreements set up with a company called LNOC, in particular their role in the transfer of Danny Graham to Swansea City. During the period, Watford were still able to register players with prior permission from league officials.
In 2013, French team Nantes received a transfer ban after breaking rules over the 2012 signing striker Ismaël Bangoura from Al Nasr SC. It was ruled that Nantes had persuaded Bangoura to break his contract with the UAE team, and were fined €4.5m by FIFA, to be paid to Al Nasr.
In April 2014, Spanish club Barcelona received a transfer ban for two consecutive windows starting June 2014 and a fine of £305k for breaches relating to the international transfer and registration of players under the age of 18, while the Real Federación Española de Fútbol received a fine of £340k and told to "regularise its regulatory framework and existing system concerning the international transfer of minors in football".  FIFA's regulations dictate that international transfers regarding minors are only accepted in three scenarios - the player's parents have moved to another country for non-related reasons; the move takes place within the European Union if the player is aged between 16 and 18, or the player's home is less than 50 kilometres from the national border being crossed. However, it was temporarily lifted until the appeal process, giving the club the chance to purchase players in the summer transfer window of 2014, during which they were able to complete the purchases of Marc-André ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, and Luis Suárez. The ban was said to have "shattered" Barcelona's image.
- Co-ownership (football)
- Loan (sports)
- Retain and transfer system
- Third-party ownership in association football
- Trade (sports)
- World football transfer record Progression of football transfer fee record
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