By J Hutcherson (Aug 31, 2016) US Soccer Players - Amid the talk of super leagues, mergers, and revamping European club soccer as we know it, the transfer system doesn't get enough attention. FIFPro is adament that it needs to stop, and they've got a solid point. The way players move in European soccer is a relic of a different era, one that should've come to an end before any of us were born. Instead, clubs are still attaching value to players apart from their contract and selling them. Any of the North American leagues could've done the same. None of them made that the main way players move clubs.
Yet, the transfer system hangs on. English clubs complain that they're paying more for overseas players and new records fall. Small clubs find themselves cut out almost entirely, something that has become a relic of an earlier era. It wasn't long ago that transferring a star player could float a small club for years. Now, that move happens before that player ever makes a first team appearance. Thus FIFA's insistence on solidarity payments.
It's what has to happen to shore up the transfer system that should be enough to topple it. The big clubs move money around between each other. The record transfers almost always lead to the selling club spending the balance. Otherwise, they face the wrath of supporters wondering why they made the sell in the first place. Then there's the push to get rid of players before they become free agents. Anything is better than nothing within the transfer system. Meanwhile, the complaints about home grown players, limited opportunities, and building from within are loudest when a super club is struggling.
It's hard to see Europe as it is deciding the transfer system has to go. It would be the equivalent of all of the leagues deciding on an entry draft and a salary cap. But a breakaway league. That changes things, right? It's as close as we'll ever see to Europe starting from scratch.
Should those super clubs make that move, what's in their best interest? Certainly not the transfer system as we know it. Paying gigantic amounts of money for the right to a player contract doesn't make a lot of sense. Baseball uses it when a club signs a player from a Japanese club but it's a rarity bordering on silly. You trade players and sign free agents. You don't buy the right to a contract for tens of millions of dollars unless there's no other option.
Europe's proposed super league could choose to create those other options. That would be for entirely self-serving reasons, but it would also answer a lot of FIFPro's complaints.
Pushing against that is more than tradition. It's the way clubs move money around in a system that relies on several basic assumptions. Few of them hold up. It doesn't make economic sense to pay for the right to pay a player. It doesn't make sense to hold players hostage within a system that puts a market value on them without their involvement. A player has very little choice within the transfer system, something that "giving" the player a cut of the fee doesn't address. That last one is a bigger moral and ethical question, one world soccer chooses to avoid.
So here we are at the end of the summer of 2016. We're staring down a super league. UEFA may have postponed that inevitability for a few more years, but it's stalking European and world soccer as a whole. It's not a straw man to suggest that a breakaway super league would reconsider the transfer system. That's just common sense and a practical business adjustment. The better question is why would it take a super league to bring an end to the transfer market? Why not just go ahead and take that step now?
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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