The English Premier League remains one of the most attractive competitions for professional footballers in terms of the quality of football, the money on offer, the fans and the profile for players who compete in it.
We are used to seeing foreign players in England (around two-thirds of the Premier League players are from abroad), but we are increasingly seeing players from the UK ply their trade in foreign leagues. Sometimes they move to more familiar football territories such as Spain, Germany, Holland and Italy; other moves take them further afield, to places like the USA, China, Australia and Japan.
The world of international football transfers is ever-changing. More recently, developing football nations have been using their financial muscle to sign well known ‘stars’ to boost their own domestic competitions, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Players and their agents can earn sizeable salaries and fees in these countries, meaning players are often willing to give up a more competitive level of football for an enticing payday – particularly towards the end of their careers.
Of course, it is fantastic to see a truly global transfer market emerge. It offers opportunities to players of different levels the ability to earn well and experience a new culture. But, what are the risks?
Players in England are fortunate to work in a country where the employment laws provide them with good protection, the legal system is fairly robust, medical treatment is of the highest level and you can be reasonably confident that you’ll be paid (on time) whatever is set out in your contract.
The same cannot be said of employment contracts in many developing countries. There may be issues of systematic late payment; your contract might be terminated for no good reason; you might be sidelined without explanation in the hope you’ll walk away from the club if they decide you’re not worth the money they’ve committed to pay.
Won’t FIFA step in to protect the player?
It’s true that FIFA is there to try and ensure the stability of player contracts. What this means in practice is that where a player has terminated their contract with a club for ‘just cause’ (a good legal reason), you can put in a claim to FIFA. FIFA will hopefully order the club to pay you the money due under the contract. If they do, the club will be given a deadline to pay, and if they don’t, FIFA can impose sanctions such as warnings or point deductions on the club. It can be an effective means of getting paid but it can also be very slow – you might have to wait a year or more for payment; longer if the club appeals any FIFA decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Nevertheless, the FIFA route only works if your contract is solid in the first place. It won’t ‘fix’ a weak contract that allows the club to terminate for minor reasons.
What are the key things to consider?
There are all the normal contractual points to think about – and ideally with the benefit of legal advice. However, there are also issues specific to deals in developing football jurisdictions that a player and agent should have in mind:
- Reputation – does the club and/or country have a reputation for not paying players on time or in full? If so, raise it in negotiations and see if there’s scope for more of the money to be paid on signing.
- Political stability – are there political issues in the country that might affect the ability of the club to play the full term of the contract? Or, could it make it unattractive to move there at all?
- Health and well-being – medical care is something that is often contentious. A player might want the right to a second opinion on any important medical decisions. Disagreements over medical care can lead to a standoff between player and club, so the process should be clear from the start.
- Protect your income – one of the key reasons players choose to move to a developing football nation is for the money. Therefore, it is essential that the player’s salary is protected to the greatest extent possible. So often we see employment contracts with clauses that allow the club to terminate a supposed long term deal after six months or a year, or that allow the club to reduce a player’s salary if he is relegated to their reserve team.
Lastly, it is common to be put under pressure to sign a deal quickly, whether by the club, an agent, or even a player who fears losing out. But never let that stop you from taking time out to get advice. Whatever timeframe you have is the time we will work in. It’s no overstatement to say we have saved or secured millions of pounds for players whose contracts would otherwise have left them in a vulnerable position. When you’re next involved in a potential move, get in touch. We’ll be delighted to help.
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