* Written by Tarun S
Football is the largest sport in the world. It is considered to be a worldwide sport as there is not a single country where you will not find at least one football field. The sport is admired by many for the technicality it involves but with the overall simplicity it holds as well. Professional football is one of the most viewed sports, each major international tournament raking up to a minimum of a million viewers. With the connectivity, we have in modern times and with the advent of streaming abilities, matches are easier to watch. With viewership comes popularity and this gives the best players’ a superstar status.
Professional football is a complex web of associations and agents, tinkering about the legalities of the game in order to have the players perform and play for the best teams. It is a deep system that associates aspects of contract law, establishment laws, sports management and obviously statutory laws.
A player will represent himself on the field and to the public the skills he has and the knowledge of the game, but off the field, it is his legal team that plays its part in ensuring the player gets the best treatment out of the club.
LET'S GET INSIDE
Now, that we have a basic idea of how a modern footballer works, it is imperative for us to understand what type of contracts do they get and how some of them can be special. With this, we can also come to the conclusion as to how football, behind the scenes, is a corporate sinkhole full of bye-laws and legal technicalities.
The agent basically acts as the main pivot in taking care of the off-field business that concerns the player. They make sure that the player is given the best possible pay and living conditions. They also help procure and negotiate commercial endorsement deals which help shape the public identity of the player.
A basic contract can be understood as a written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law. A contract comes into account when two or more entities agree upon a certain activity or understanding with each other. Under English Common Law, footballers are considered to be employees and not ‘independent contactors’ working on their own accounts . The Contract is made expressly subject to the Club Rules, and also to the FA, FIFA and UEFA Rules as applicable and defined in the regulations.
In terms of sport in general, a contract can occur between a player and a team or a club. This signifies that the player will play and represent a certain team on the pitch and for his service, the club will pay him wages. It will also include the duration of the contract and certain other commercial terms. This can be considered a bird’s eye view of a player’s contract. There are deeper clauses to such a contract that mainly help define it and can at times be bizarre or rare.
In other words, according to Matthew Buck of the PFA, a contract will include a basic salary, signing-on fees, loyalty fees, objectives based on games, sub-agreements for image rights and any clauses you may wish to negotiate.
Clauses are those terms in the contract that can be used to enforce some unorthodox items in the document. It is used to add something that the club wants the player to do or vice versa. The finer details of the clause negotiation are what will help show the prowess of the player’s representatives.
Throughout the history of the game, ever since professional associations were formed, there have always been certain players and clubs who’ve had rather bizarre clauses on their contracts. Clubs can be forced to pay huge fees to land their coveted transfer targets, however, sometimes they can be forced into agreeing to something a little bit extra. Those that are not in the ordinary and can be sometimes historical as well.
Let us now take a look at some instances where there have some very interesting clauses in a footballer’s contract.
Our first instance is that of Luis Suarez’s contract with FC Barcelona. Coming after a brilliant season with Liverpool FC, Suarez headed into the 2014 world cup with top form and large interest from Barcelona. In a now very infamous event, during a knockout match against Italy, Suarez shoves his teeth into the shoulder of Chiellini and was immediately sent off. He was banned from football for three months, but when Fc Barcelona wanted to sign him, they made sure to include a clause that condemned him from biting another player.
The club can make their own provisions that would help protect themselves from certain actions of the player and even help keep a valuable asset with them. Such was the case with Cristiano Ronaldo, after the stellar 2013 season, Real Madrid added a release clause of one billion euros. Through this, they virtually made sure it was impossible for any club to buy him.
This goes on to show the efforts the club puts through the negotiable documents in order to keep their interests at bay.
These additional clauses also apply from the player’s side as well. Such as in the case of Giuseppe Reina, when the German striker put a rather strange clause into his contract. He propounded that the new club Arminia Bielefeld would build a house for him of every year of his contract. This was a rather unorthodox clause for a football player. But the club did find a loophole in the wordings which showed that he had not stated the type and size of the house to be built. So, the club built him a house of LEGO for the three years of his contract.
This is seen as a clear abuse of the fact that players can accrue bonuses for their performance. It may seem that bonuses are only beneficial for players, but the clubs can use performance-related bonuses to incentivize players and improve performances. Also, if clubs a struggling to afford a high wage for a player, they can use bonuses to ensure that they are only rewarding the player when the team is doing well.
There are cases where the club has to pay heed to the demands of the players, due to the skill and flair they would bring to the side. Such clauses can be flamboyant and expenditure to the club. The following illustration of Neymar’s agreement with FC Barcelona will help, give a better understanding of this term.
When Neymar signed for FC Barcelona in 2013, the transfer was regarded as one of the best as he was considered to be a future superstar. The club went through many obstacles to sign the gifted Brazilian. They wanted him desperately and Neymar made sure he got what he wanted whilst signing for the club.
He had two clauses added to the contract which showed his intentions with the negotiation. The first was that Neymar will earn just under £2 million should he not dispute the coach's choice regarding his position on the pitch. The second being that a clause will allow his friends from Brazil to visit every two months, with all of their expenses paid by the club.
Now, while it is true that the signing of a major player does bring talent to the squad and extra revenue through sponsorships, their exorbitant demands showcase how the game has evolved from its innocent roots as a sport for the workers to something that involves billions of dollars just for individual players. The stardom they attain only acts as leverage for them to force clubs into agreeing on some terms that are unorthodox.
A more recent example is how the importance of Lionel Messi for FC Barcelona, made them offer a contract that would make the player the highest earner in the sport. But, for a six-time Ballon d'Or winner, it could be justified.
Players are nothing more than individuals who have exceptional skill in handling the ball at their feet and performing in front of a crowd. The recent development of social media and other platforms have brought us closer to these stars and made have put them on a pedestal. This popularity and fan following are what could be one reason to drive players in pushing clubs to allow certain actions and clauses.
Legal provisions often are seen as a secondary object in terms of a player’s career, but it is, in reality, an important tool for the player or their representatives to enhance the life of the player outside the pitch. Agents make sure that the player not only earns a good wage but that he is treated well by the club. This is where we see clauses come into play. A trend which could be noticed is that these unusual terms are mostly seen in contracts of players who are transferred from another country altogether. It is rather rare to have such instances with domestic players.
Therefore, we can ascertain that in this modern era of football, the aspect of business and laws has gained equal perspective with the sporting aspect of it. Contracts and clauses have added a whole new dimension to the career of a professional player. With more viewership and popularity, the complexity and demands of the entities will increase. Brand deals and commercial commitments now play an equal role in shaping the player’s identity with the contribution he/she does on the pitch. This boosts the importance of provisions in a player’s contract as well. With all these changes, the game still remains loved and revered throughout the world.
*The author is a law scholar of IFIM Law School, Bengaluru.
(The image used here is for representational purposes only)
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