Luis Suarez; why legal contracts are important

This summer has brought an air of optimism to the country, mostly fuelled by the heat wave, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, the on-going demolition of the Aussies in the ashes and some economic news that seems to indicate things are getting better. Oh, and a baby named George.

For football fans however the summer brings with it optimism, expectation and, for some, ultimately disappointment. All wrapped up in the transfer window (or the circus as some prefer to call it).

The summer of 2013, more than most, has seen massive speculation surrounding a number of the world’s most high profile players and interestingly the most talked about transfer so far seems to be Arsenal’s pursuit of Luis Suarez.

From a legal perspective this has brought some insight into the cloak and dagger world of player contracts. Common practice now amongst the bigger clubs is the insertion of buy-out clauses into player contracts, with such clauses designed to ensure that the club can, in the short term at least, ward off potential suitors with exorbitant amounts. In the case of the Luis Suarez however, should the player’s form and talent merit that fee, a buyer is often willing to pay such a high asking price.

The situation with Suarez is that of contractual disagreement and confusion. Suarez and his advisors remain at a standstill with his current club Liverpool over the interpretation of said contract, with each party claiming a different interpretation of a clause, in a deal that was signed almost a year ago. The debate has since been fuelled by the high profile club Arsenal, who put in a large bid of £40,000,001 – which some people believe should have triggered a clause in the contract, thus allowing him to speak to other clubs, and potentially move somewhere new. 

The debate seems to be fuelled even further in this case by the fact there are two different nationalities involved. In Spain it is common practice for clubs to approach players and offer the buy-out clause, systematically releasing the player from their previous contract, no questions asked. This is likely the kind of negotiation Suarez is potentially familiar with and, most importantly, something his Spanish agent Pere Guardiola (brother of Bayern Munich coach, Pep Guardiola) would have intimate knowledge of. 

In the UK however, proceedings are slightly different – and that is where issues might have been complicated. The situation in the UK lacks that kind of regulation and, here, players can only speak to other clubs with the written consent of their current club, and only if an offer substantial enough to trigger these clauses is put forward (unless you are in the final five weeks of your contract). Sports specialist Graham Shear, says in this interview that he thinks Suarez’s people have assumed that this ‘permission to talk’ to other clubs also carries with it an obligation for Liverpool to release Luis Suarez to the bidding club. When, in actual fact, it doesn’t and Liverpool have no obligation whatsoever to release Suarez from his current contract. 

Football contracts are incredibly detailed and, with such vast sums of money involved, the negotiations between clubs can be an incredibly long winded and sometimes delicate process. In this modern age there are even numerous considerations (more than just money) such as image rights and performance fees to take into account. This inter-club negotiation is just the start; the players themselves then negotiate personal terms, covering not just their salary but a plethora of rights and issues.  As David Beckham has proved, the world’s greatest footballers are brands in themselves.

What we learn from these situations is that contract negotiations of any kind can be complex with many pitfalls.  Often the advice of a qualified, experienced solicitor is invaluable in these matters, ensuring that complex legal jargon is explained in plain English and both parties are guided through the process with the minimal amount of fuss and confusion. In the case of Luis Suarez, the different customs of different countries has also made the issue more complicated – so for people planning a move abroad, looking through any new contracts with a legal professional is vital to ensure there are no discrepancies in terms of cultural expectations too. 

For most of us these matters are normally restricted to buying houses, creating a will, getting a divorce and new employment contracts, and we can only dream of what it must be like to negotiate a £150,000 a week salary. However, if ever you ever feel confused or unclear about a contract – especially an employment contract  - for your own peace of mind, a legal professional should be involved to ensure your best interests are protected. Our expert lawyers can help you – find your nearest QualitySolicitors branch here

Posted in: Employment law

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