“When is a door not a door? When it is ajar…”
“When is a contract not a contract..?”
It bothered me during the Great Cescape – when our club captain, with four years remaining on his contract, was allowed to throw the world’s longest, sulkiest hissy-fit – making himself useless to the Club, and forcing a move back to Barcelona.
It bothered me this week, when Alex “Blingalicious” Song slouched off to follow Fabregas to basque in golder pastures. (Our Top Deck midfielder was supposedly unhappy with his mere £55 000-per-week salary – hence the insolence? – and before you could say “WTF..?” he was gone). This despite two, maybe three years remaining on his contract.
Penis Over Brain had us bent over a barrel for nigh on a year – before he practically took a dump in it with his July 4th Declaration of Independence: the footballing equivalent of a ‘Dear John’ letter – and turned what should have been a routine contract extension into a drawn-out, messy divorce. (A divorce that left us with the house and the memories: he got to marry the home-breaking slut; and keep the kid. (Kid was a Man Utd supporter anyway, so, no loss there…)
Even as we speak, Mr. Theodore (Fleet-Of-Foot-Brain-Not-So-Much) Walcott Esq., is treading that increasingly well-trodden path – known more by its common name, contract renewal, than what it really is: a blackmail opportunity.
Now, I don’t know if this kind of contract shenanigans is commonplace in, let’s say …Animal Husbandry …or Nursing … So it may be that I’m getting my knickers in a knot over knothing. Perhaps it’s quite normal in other industries?
Ring ring… Ring ring… Ring
Hello MR. KLØENWÅKKERSSËN? A quick word? Thanks!
Look: I know I signed up for three years of peeling fish in the dead of winter, in the middle of nowhere, for what seemed at the time as an agreeable rate… but it’s been two weeks and I know more than I did when you hired me, so therefore I think I should be paid more. Besides: that guy SQUILLACI is useless at it and he gets more than me.
Oh, and also MR. SHEIKHOTROVITCH has offered me twice as much. And I forgot: I’m actually a member of PETA and I shouldn’t be peeling fish anyway.
What’s that you say? No time to find a replacement? And you already spent a fuckload on custom-fit fish-peeling kit? Well – that’s not exactly my problem, is it? No flights out of here for 6 months? Funny you should say that. I’m calling you from the back of ABI’S – I mean, MR. SHEIKHOTROVITCH’S – snowmobile.
It’s heated. I’m riding bareback…
Here’s my understanding of how this all works – bearing in mind that I am in no way qualified to understand how this all works:
- We spend a lot of money traveling around the world and watching shitty teams play in far-off countries, until we find a player we believe is either very-very-good-already-(bonus!) or will-become-very-very-good-with-the-help-of-expensive-facilities-and-world-class-resources.
- We find out who is in charge and then convince them to hand over the player. Sometimes we behave like the old guy on the park bench with the trenchcoat and the bag full of sweeties. Sometimes we are vultures. Sometimes we pretend we are actually doing them a favour and that, actually, we stand to lose a heckuvalot trying to get the player up-to-scratch and we’re not even sure that will ever happen so we’re doing-you-a-favour.
- We then ‘sign’ the player, offering him compensation somewhere between what he’s worth and what we can afford, whichever is lower. (At that point, the club sees the player as raw carbon, which, with a lot of time and energy invested, might become a diamond. At that point, though, the starry-eyed player has just signed with *Ar*s*en*a*l and is a legend in his own mind…)
- The length of the standard contract seems to be 4 years. This depends on: a) how old the player is – where 16 is ‘old enough’, 27 is ‘over the hill’ and 30 is what-the-hell-are-you-still-doing-here? b) how many sick days the player’s had/ hookah pipes he’s smoked/ extra pounds he’s put on. c) how many shirts he sells/ times he’s appeared on the cover of the lastest FIFA videogame.
- For all intents and purposes, a four year contract is in effect a three year contract if we like him. Because to stop him from waltzing out of the front door for free at the end of it we have to extend his contract, or negotiate a new one, before the fourth season starts. Otherwise he has us what’s known as “bent over a barrel”…
- A four year contract if we don’t like him (useless lump of carbon) is really bad for us. We have to pay him huge amounts of money to, in effect, do nothing. For the full four years. Unless we can sell him. Or loan him to some needier club who are happy to subsidize our carbonic lump. If a mystery benefactor doesn’t appear, we’re screwed. We have no choice but to throw wads of cash at him, as per the contract. Because there are repercussions if we just start acting lazy and sulky and start paying him late or not at all.
- If the player doesn’t like his current situation, however, like our friend NUKID (above), then the contract can be rendered pretty meaningless. He can out-and-out rebel, by going AWOL to play golf in Argentina, for instance. Or flirt publicly with the enemy, while his agent furtively emasculates his agreement. He can put on a longer face (than he has already), behave like a spoilt brat, and make himself unpleasant/ impossible to be around. Or he can pick the most inopportune time to freeze, like a stubborn mule, refusing to do what he’s been hired to do, refusing to discuss any remedies, and generally being a spanner in the works.
All of the above generally lead to one thing: they force the door ajar. Just enough for the player to squeeze one foot through – knowing that there is no historical precedent for getting the door slammed on it. Lets face it: what club is going to force a player to stay who doesn’t want to be there? And who needs the headache of suing a player in whatever court it is that has jurisdiction over contractual disagreements?
Suddenly a contract becomes a powerplay between the club and the player’s agent, with the player himself often willingly sidelined, shielded by his shark-like representative. What started out as velvet-lined bondage restraints, suddenly become a LAPD issue thumbcuffs. Having had representation myself, and having had to contract talent – I’m fully aware of the tactics applied by both sides.
Unfortunately, when these negotiations become hostile – which they inevitably do when one party wants/needs the other more than they themselves are needed – there is no turning back. Things get said that cannot be retracted. Feelings are hurt, authority is challenged, and the only solution is to sever the ties that bind, minimize collateral damage, and move on.
Which leads me to the core queries of this blog… What exactly are fooball contracts? Why do they so often seem to favour the player? Why do they seem so ‘leaky’, compared to other ‘real-world’ employment agreements? Do they have a place in the modern game? I’m certain there is an independent governing body that oversees contract enforcement – but if there is, I’m imagining it is either ineffective or disinterested: I don’t hear it mentioned too often…
Perhaps these contracts are more mafioso by nature. Where both sides know where they stand. And there is an unwritten agreement that, should things get out-of-hand, they will be settled, as most mob disagreements are: mano a mano, late at night, in the boardroom equivalent of a deserted alley.
As Sir Winston Churchill once almost said:
“Football contracts are the worst form of employment agreements…
Except for all the others.”