Call My Bluff – Suarez, Bale, And The Truth About Transfer Dealings

This month’s AST meeting had sports lawyer Ian Lynam (@ianlynam)as a guest speaker. Ian is an Arsenal fan and has previously worked for Arsenal on transfer deals, so has great insight into how the club functions on player contracts and transfers. He now has Cesc Fabregas as a client, among others. He confirmed that Cesc is still a big fan of Arsenal and, though he couldn’t speak directly about Cesc’s intentions I got the impression that he certainly wouldn’t rule out playing for Arsenal again.

Ian obviously couldn’t talk about his clients or too much on current events where he had insider knowledge, but he did give us a lot of fascinating information about how transfers work in football these days. Here’s a quick Q&A based on what Ian said, which I hope is accurate given the danger of me misrepresenting a lawyer.

Do players lose money if they hand in transfer requests?

Not usually. It’s certainly not the case that players lose wages or bonuses by asking for a transfer. Bonuses are usually paid at the end of a season. If a player is there, he gets his agreed bonus; if not, he doesn’t. Where players lose is that signing on fees are usually split so that for example a quarter of the fee is paid each year of a four-year contract; if you leave before the contract ends you forfeit remaining portions of the signing on fee.

Why don’t players want to hand formal requests in then?

It seems to be more to do with public perception of their actions. They don’t want to say to the fans ‘I want to go’, especially if a move doesn’t then materialise. Handing in a request is largely symbolic, though.

What if a player agitates for a move and makes it plain they want to go without actually making an official request?

With or without a formal request, if a player makes it plain he wants to leave then his club may use this to bargain with. The club might tell the player he can only leave if he forgoes any money he’s owed. But each case is individual. The player’s agent will work on potential buyers to compensate the player for making it easier to buy him by going public.

Who pays agents?

Agents get a percentage of their player’s wages. They aren’t allowed to receive any part of a transfer fee. By only getting a percentage of wages (usually 5%) they are incentivised to get the best deal for their clients. If they got a cut of transfer fees then as soon as the player was out of the room they could agree to low wages for him in exchange for a bigger fee, which they then took part of. The club, for tax reasons, usually handles all the payments to the agent rather than paying the player and him passing it on.

How long have these rules been in place?

Rules change often and have been tightened up in recent years in response to high profile cases. Older Arsenal fans may remember George Graham had a bit of trouble with agent’s fees. That situation would not be able to arise at all now.

Do agents also act for clubs?

Usually these days an agent will act on behalf of a buying club as well as his player.

Does ‘tapping up’ occur?

It clearly does on occasions, but what should happen is that approaches should always be made to clubs in private. The club may or may not be bound to pass on news of interest to their player, depending on the player’s own contract.

So if there is a release clause?

Not necessarily a release clause – it might be that a player’s contract states he must be told if there is a bid for him in excess of a certain amount. That doesn’t mean his club have to sell him. Though if there is a genuine release clause (as seems to be the case with Fellaini) then his club are obliged to sell if an offer of the right level comes in – assuming of course that the player wants to go.

Did Suarez have a release clause?

It appears not. Arsenal may have been told he did, either because his agent got it wrong or was deliberately trying to stir some action, but Liverpool and the PFA were both adamant that they merely had to advise Suarez of a bid.

Were Liverpool right to be outraged?

Up to a point. Arsenal should not officially have known about any clauses up front. But Liverpool are hardly whiter than white. While Clint Dempsey was still a Fulham player they inadvertently put a message on their website saying they’d signed him and welcoming him to the club. Fulham claimed this unsettled Dempsey to the point they had to sell him, and he went to Spurs (which obviously you would not wish on anyone). Previously Liverpool upset Middlesbrough by getting wind of Christian Zeige’s release clause amount and offering the exact figure. Boro had to accept, but then sued both the player and Liverpool.

Is a buyout clause the same as a release clause?

No – a buyout clause allows a player to buy out his own contract and then go where he likes. In Spain, contract law states that everyone must be allowed to buy out his own contract, so every player has a buyout clause. In the case of Messi and Ronaldo these are ridiculously high and have no relation to wages or length of contract. In practice a buyout clause is rarely exercised, as a player has to fund it himself or get an interested club to pay him first in order to effect the buyout, but that payment from club to player would be subject to tax, making it more expensive. It’s usually easier to negotiate with the selling club in the standard manner.

Are lots of deals really done on the last day and at the last minute, or is it just hype by Sky?

Yes, there are lots of last minute deals. These are for any number of reasons – sometimes there’s a domino effect (eg Bale to Madrid, who then released Ozil); sometimes it’s brinksmanship by clubs trying to force fees up or down; sometimes one target falls through and clubs make last minute decisions to look elsewhere.

How much paperwork is involved?

Up to 35 documents have to be completed and signed for a deal, potentially with parties in several different countries.

Do clubs and the Premier League still use fax machines to transmit documents? Haven’t they heard of email?

The PL actually got rid of its last fax machine this summer. They now allow PDFs to be emailed.

Are Arsenal’s negotiating team incompetent?

Despite appearances (my words), no (Ian’s word).

Note: as I said at the top, this is not a transcript of the meeting, it’s just based on what Ian said and written up from my notes made at the time, and is not a list of direct quotes. Ian was asked questions by various people, including the last question, which quite a lot of people wanted to know the answer to.

Follow me on twitter: @AngryOfN5

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9 thoughts on “Call My Bluff – Suarez, Bale, And The Truth About Transfer Dealings

  1. Why would you ask the last question? Mr.Lynam would never diss his client and you displayed a dreadful lack of class in posing such a question. Otherwise your article was excellent and very informative.

    • The author was passing on his statements in the form of a Q&A, the questions above may not be the ones he was directly asked at the AST meeting. More likely they are simplified versions of talking points used by Ian.

  2. A few interesting bits in here, but why publish this without pointing out that the interviewee tried to peddle propaganda in his answers to the questions? First he said agents don’t get a cut of transfer fees, because that would be a conflict of interest, so they only get a cut of player salaries. Then in next breath (two questions later) he admits that buying clubs DO pay fees to agents – which is the same party that the agent negotiates player salary with.

    And the amounts of payments made by clubs to players are massive – a brief review of the accounts of premiership clubs shows these payments. They are also up-front payments at the time of the transfer, which are more attractive than the slow drip of commission on monthly player salaries. Clearly the agents are sitting both sides of the fence.

    Why does the author not force the interviewee to address this attempt at deceiving the reader?

    • No system with agents in it is going to be perfect, and obviously they get away with whatever they can. Note that Ian himself is a lawyer, not an agent.
      The total of payments from clubs to agents has to be made public under PL rules, and usually features in the club’s accounts. This includes any up front payments for acting on behalf of the club, those aren’t an ‘also’.
      Payments from players to agents (the 5% of salary) are usually paid six monthly or annually, so not really a ‘steady drip’. However, it depends on the contract between player and agent, and the dynamics are different when you’re talking about a Championship or lower player who gets paid a very small fraction of what Arsenal players get.

  3. Last q was somewhat bitchy, a sports lawyer is not going to call one of the biggest clubs in the country out for having an incompetent negotiating team. But barring that, great insight in the world of football law.

  4. Arsenal should never work with the lawyers who told them Suarez had a release clause. The whole Suarez shit was main reason we didn’t get a striker last summer.

    We could easily have signed Higuain or try harder for Rooney.

    • Higuan didn’t seem like he cared particularly to go to Arsenal any more than Suarez did. Rooney too never really made a push.

      This fairly hungry team that is very close to getting over the hump and has gotten here with a healthy dose of collective spirit. At this stage the club really needs players who are hungry to be here and kick the thing on to the next level ie trophies, rather than just being about themselves, which will run the team spirit. Its very well possible that Wenger dodged the bullet there on Suarez in particular, who has never NOT made trouble at any club he has been at. Higuian seems more of a decent citizen but again he’s is an Argentine who was comfortable in Madrid and if he had to move, was happy to move to another latin culture rather than to Arsenal. Fair enough. Cant cry over that.

      Jovetic is a harder one in that he has a lot of attractive qualities and real team player for sure, but again he too never really came out and said he wanted to be at Arsenal and seems happy to collect his money on the Man City bench.

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