Ten years ago this week, the European Court of Justice ruled that a relatively unknown midfielder Jean-Marc Bosman could leave Belgian club RFC Liège for French side USL Dunkerque. The implications of the case - the granting of freedom of contract and the removal of restrictions on European Union players within the states in that body - are well known. And its significance was certainly felt at AFC Ajax, then European champions with a largely home-produced team, who since reaching the 1996 final have seldom come close to reclaiming that crown, unable to match the spending power of teams from the richer leagues of England, Italy, Spain and Germany. Louis van Gaal was the Ajax coach in the mid-1990s, and went on to lead FC Barcelona and the Dutch national team before returning to the Amsterdam ArenA as technical director and this year taking over at AZ Alkmaar. He has therefore had a ringside seat for the evolution of European football since the Bosman ruling and he shared his thoughts with the uefa.com Magazine.
uefa.com: At the time of Bosman, you were coach at Ajax, the European champions. Were you able to prepare for the change in regulations?
Louis van Gaal: It was difficult to prepare, as no one really knew what the consequences would be. We tried to commit players for the long term immediately, but a number of guys chose to leave on a free transfer, to be sold on one year later. Especially to AC Milan, as they were able to take [Patrick] Kluivert, [Winston] Bogarde and [Michael] Reiziger for free, to sell them on later for a lot of money.
uefa.com: In what way has the change in transfer rules affected the job of coach?
Van Gaal: It is more difficult to make long-term plans. One already knows in advance that long-term contracts are almost never served out and respected any more, so that together with the technical manager one has to prepare an alternative team earlier and make team change decisions sooner then before.
uefa.com: What changes would you like to make in the current transfer system?
Van Gaal: An age limit should be instituted, for instance that players are not allowed to be transferred abroad before their 21st or 23rd birthday. Furthermore it still is bad for football that big clubs can prise free transfers from smaller clubs, promise these boys heaven and then sell them for a lot of money just a year later.
uefa.com: How has the abolition of the limits of EU players in a squad changed your job?
Van Gaal: With AZ this is not the case, as we prefer to work with Dutch players and after that Belgian or Scandinavian players, so we have not had much to do with that. At Barcelona it was different and one had to deal with a lot of guys from different cultures and one had to immerse oneself into other cultures much more with players who came from other countries or other continents.
uefa.com: Would you be in favour restoring limits to the number of EU players allowed in a team?
Van Gaal: Yes, I think that at least a minimum of six players from the home country should play with a club. That creates their own identity and style of football. The philosophy of the club, of a country, will be expressed much better. For the rest of the players I don't think it would matter if they came from EU countries or from nations outside the EU.
uefa.com: Looking back, how has it affected clubs in general?
Van Gaal: Players got much more power and suddenly earned a whole lot more, also the players who were not at the absolute top level. That has been a bad thing. The employer always must have the strongest position, without really dominating, as it is the club that pays the players.
uefa.com: Do you feel that the effects of Bosman have particularly been negative for clubs in the Netherlands and other 'smaller' countries?
Van Gaal: The smaller countries definitively have suffered negative consequences from the Bosman case and the bigger clubs in bigger nations I think much much fewer, they have more money. For instance the Dutch clubs have to be more creative then ever before, but still we are doing well with two clubs in the final 16 in the [UEFA] Champions League and at least AZ qualifying for the next stage of the UEFA Cup.
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