Glory for Ajax and the Bosman ruling which changed football | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 30, 2020

Glory for Ajax and the Bosman ruling which changed football

When Patrick Kluivert scored the winner for Ajax in the 1995 Champions League final, it might have been the start of another period of domination for the Dutch side.

Instead it was a victory which in many ways marked the end of an era for the club who had won the European Cup three years running in the 1970s, and for the game as a whole.

Since that night a quarter of a century ago in Vienna, when the Amsterdam side defeated AC Milan 1-0, only once has a club from outwith the continent's four leading leagues -- Italy, Germany, Spain and England -- lifted the trophy. That was Porto, winners in 2004 under Jose Mourinho.

Football was already changing before Ajax raised the trophy aloft, following the introduction in 1992 of the Champions League as well as the Premier League in England.

But the most fundamental change came a few months later in the shape of the Bosman ruling.

In December 1995, after a five-year battle, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Belgium's Jean-Marc Bosman in his fight to be allowed to leave his club, RFC Liege, on a free transfer as his contract had expired.

Previously clubs could retain the registrations of players even after contracts finished and demand transfer fees for them. As Bosman said in 2015, "it was illogical". But it did help small clubs ward off predators.

That was to be no more, and the free movement of players has helped revolutionise the game.

At Ajax, that triumphant team coached by Louis van Gaal was not immediately torn apart in 1995, even if 19-year-old Clarence Seedorf left for Sampdoria and Frank Rijkaard retired. Seven of those who started in Vienna also started the 1996 final, which Ajax lost on penalties to Juventus.

Then the exodus began, with Michael Reiziger and Edgar Davids heading to AC Milan for free. Kluivert, who came off the bench to prod home the winner in Vienna, ended up at Milan in 1997.

"It was difficult to prepare, as no one really knew what the consequences would be," Van Gaal recalled of the ruling in an interview years later. Van Gaal went on to win trophies with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United but acknowledged the impact on clubs outside the elite, saying they "suffered negative consequences".

The ruling contributed to the concentration of talent at the very top, although it also opened up some unlikely opportunities.

Take the example of striker Scott Booth, who in 1997 left an Aberdeen team who were sixth in Scotland's top flight to join Champions League winners Borussia Dortmund.

"The Bosman thing was sort of hanging around, knowing I had three months left on my contract and then I was a free agent," Booth tells AFP.  Booth then went on to enjoy success in the Netherlands.

Such a career path is now the norm for footballers in Europe, a far cry from the days before the Bosman ruling, when clubs could only field three foreigners in their line-ups in Champions League games. Fast forward to 2019 and only seven Englishmen started the all-English final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

In the 10 years up to 1995, clubs from seven different countries won the European Cup, including Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade.

Such diversity is unlikely to be seen again, even if Ajax came close last season, losing in agonising fashion to Spurs in the semifinals.

A select few now dominate the European landscape, something that is unlikely to change even in the post-pandemic world.

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