How it unfolded
Bernard was trained at the Olympique Lyonnais academy. With his three-year trainee contract about to expire in the summer of 2000, the club offered him a new one-year deal. Bernard refused and
signed with Newcastle United in August 2000.
At that time, French football regulations stipulated that youth players had to sign their first contract as a professional footballer with the team they were trained at. They were not allowed to join any other professional football club in France.
Lyonnais sued Bernard seeking damages for his training, with a compensation equal to the remuneration he would have received if he had signed the one-year deal at OL.
“To play professional football, I had to leave France,” Bernard later told FIFPRO. “That was the only reason for me to go to England, to Newcastle United. I did not want to leave France: I was only 19 years old, I did not speak English, I was not interested in English culture.”
After fighting their way through the French judicial system, Bernard and Olympique Lyonnais ended up at the European Court of Justice (The Court).
On March 16th of 2010, nearly nine years after the case had started, the Court ruled that the French regulations were a restriction on the freedom of movement for workers.
Though these rules did not prevent Bernard from signing a contract with a club in another country, they nonetheless made that option far less attractive because of the compensation.
The Court also viewed that the compensation was excessive and had to be limited to the exact costs which the club invested in training the player.
Why is this verdict so important?
With this ruling, the Court recognised that the club which trained the player in question has a claim to reimbursement. However, linking this reimbursement strictly to the costs of training, led to much more freedom of movement for players.
“It was very hard for me,” Bernard said. “I did not know what I had done wrong. I simply refused to accept a job.”
“Every human being has the right to refuse a job. That’s why it was important for me to win this case. You can’t force somebody to stay where he is not happy. I was not under contract anymore, I was free to leave.”