The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: B - Jean-Marc Bosman
Bosman around the time of the court case.

Lionel Messi. Pele. Diego Maradona. All legends of football that have their names etched into eternity.

However, none of them have their surname in the glossary of any football phrasebook.

One man who does have such an honour, is Jean-Marc Bosman.

Quiet beginnings

It's easy to forget about Bosman the footballer given all that went on afterwards, but he actually started as a talented midfielder.

Born in a small Belgian town, Jean-Marc was always the best in his age group at football and rose through the ranks quickly, captaining Belgium at youth level.

Goals weren't his forte, but with an eye for a pass and the ability to tackle, it was no surprise when he joined Standard Liege in 1983, Standard being Belgian champions at the time.

Unfortunately, Bosman didn't quite develop into the player he had promised to be, making just 86 appearances in five years, unable to help his team to another title win.

Moving to another Liege, RFC Liege, in 1988, proved to be the final meaningful part of Bosman's footballing career.

He fell out with bosses at the club, leading to just a handful of appearances in two years. By 1990, he'd had enough.

Drama and a lengthy court case

Bosman wanted out of Belgium and having signed a two year contract upon his moving to RFC, planned to dip over the border and play for Dunkirk come the end of it.

Unfortunately for him, laws at the time meant that there was a 'player evaluation' system in place that would determine someone's value come the end of their contract, and a player would be hand-bound by his club unless that price was met.

With Dunkirk unwilling to pay up and Bosman having seen his wage slashed by 75%, the Belgian went on the offensive.

Hiring lowly lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont, the midfielder took his case to the European courts in order to get his move on a free.

Despite Dupont's relative inexperience compared to the might of the club's that came against him, and Bosman's lowly status as a footballer, the case gained prominence as it moved through lower courts all the way to the European Court of Justice.

Coming up against the might of UEFA, his former club and the Belgian FA, Bosman achieved what was possibly the biggest result of his career - The Bosman Ruling.

Landmark trial comes at some cost

However, there was an issue. Whilst the trial went on, Bosman couldn't play for Dunkirk and unsurprisingly wouldn't continue for Liege.

That meant that, for five years, Bosman barely played. From 1985-1990, he made a handful of appearances in the lowest of French divisions, wasting the prime years of his career away with a historic court battle.

Of club owners, after the trial, Bosman said; "They are people without scruple. They have no respect for the rights of others and are basically incompetent."

Claiming damages and winning, following those wasted years, Bosman embodied a fairly cultured lifestyle, a bright green BMW car being one of his most treasured assets.

Unfortunately, that was where it started to go wrong for Bosman. Fuelled by anger at the length of the case and the 'pitiful' damages he believes he'd received, a life of alcoholism followed as his playing career ended 15 years after it had started.

Things worsened with the break up of his marriage and a fall out with his children, Bosman hitting rock bottom on the 16th anniversary of his landmark ruling in 2011 as a drunken row with his girlfriend resulted in a suspended prison sentence for attempted result.

What about today?

Bosman's career and what happened after the trial faded into the background after the verdict, with a new breeding ground of player power and football agents taking more control over transfers.

One of the biggest 'Bosman' moves we saw in the years following was Steve McManaman's deal with Real Madrid, whilst Tottenham Hotspur fans were left cursing Jean-Marc in 2001 as Sol Campbell moved to rivals Arsenal for nothing.

In recent years we've seen Robert Lewandowski be prized away from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich, Andrea Pirlo switch from AC Milan to Juventus and Zlatan Ibrahimovic become a Manchester United player.

Bosman, meanwhile, has been looking to get life back on track.

Battling the alcohol to a better degree than previously and seemingly slowly repairing relations with his family, the 53-year-old now lives off a very small handout from local authorities.

With the man who engineered the ruling now living off little, it's rather fitting that his stance means players can go for nothing.


This article is the second in our 'Forgotten Footballers' series. Check out A, where we give you two for the price of one with a profile of the Allofs brothers.