‘No Space Travel’ & Other Football Contract Clauses
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‘No Space Travel’ & Other Football Contract Clauses

According to rumour, a former international
footballer had a clause put in his contract banning him for travelling into space “It’s true,” Stefan Schwarz tells The
Athletic, recalling the negotiations that took him to Sunderland from Valencia in 1999.
“I would have loved to go into space. It was my agent’s idea. When we were discussing
the contract, Moonraker, the James Bond movie, was on television. It was a film I liked.
My agent said, ‘let’s get this contract done and we’ll go.’ But then Sunderland
got to hear about it and they were not so keen.” “Around the Millennium it was widely thought
we were all going to be flying halfway to the bloody moon within two or three years.
Stefan was very much into the idea. We had paid a lot of money for him and then it came
out that his agent had already booked, or was going to book, one of the first flights
into space. So we thought we’d better do something about it.” As unusual clauses go, it compares with the
no-biting stipulation that Barcelona inserted into Luis Suarez’s contract. Or Ronaldinho’s
request for a clause allowing him two nights out a week when he joined Flamengo. Or the
strange story of Mario Balotelli having a “good conduct” clause at Liverpool that
entitled him to a £1 million bonus if he avoided getting three red cards in one season. For Stig Inge Bjornebye, Liverpool wanted
to make sure the Norwegian, a keen ski-jumper in his youth, stayed off the slopes. “In
all the contracts it was written in that you cannot take part in dangerous sports,” Bjornebye
says. “I didn’t go ski-jumping after that. I never breached the contract.” Approaching the final 10 days of the transfer
window, another anecdote might explain why it can take several months to arrange a top-level
transfer and even longer sometimes when it comes to persuading a player to agree a new
contract. Just consider the story that Frank Clark,
the former manager of Nottingham Forest, tells about one of his players requesting around
50 clauses in his proposed new deal. Lars Bohinen, another Norway international,
wanted six return flights to Oslo every year, Clark wrote in his autobiography. He wanted
the club to find a job for his wife and pay her medical insurance. He requested a clause
to stipulate he was always used as an attacking midfielder and, if he was not in the first
team, he wanted the right not to play for the reserves. A new car was on the list and, according to
Clark, Bohinen wanted a clause promising the club would waive UEFA and FIFA regulations
in the event of an official dispute. And a new floor. Bohinen didn’t like the
carpet in the house the club had already bought him. Apparently the fluff was getting up his
nose. Bohinen, who was rated around the £2 million mark, did not end up signing the new
contract because Blackburn Rovers activated a £750,000 release clause in his initial
deal. Harry Redknapp, an alumnus of football’s
old school, is fond of recounting the time he was trying to sign Jermain Defoe for Portsmouth
and a problem cropping up with the player’s contract negotiations. Defoe, who was at Tottenham Hotspur, was being
represented by his mother, Sandra, and she was asking for a goal bonus to top up what
he would earn as his basic salary. As Redknapp tells it, the Portsmouth manager
tried to be as polite as possible. “Mrs Defoe, Jermain is costing us £12 million
and he will be earning £50,000 a week. What do you think we’re paying him for?” At Barcelona, they still remember Frank Rijkaard’s
anger when he found out that Javier Saviola, the Argentina forward, had a clause in his
contract entitling him to an extra €6,000 for every goal he scored. Rijkaard wondered how it might affect a striker’s
mindset, even subconsciously, in the fraction of a second before deciding whether to shoot
or pass. Nowadays, however, The Athletic’s research
has found that players do not just have goal bonuses written into their contracts almost
as a matter of routine, but also receive a hefty payment for each one they set up. This goes all the way down to the lower divisions,
too, with one League One club paying a player £500 every time he contributes an assist,
even if it is just winning the free-kick that a team-mate fires in from 25 yards, or playing
a simple pass before somebody else beats three opponents to score. They all count. There are clean-sheet incentives for goalkeepers
and defenders and, as well as the traditional win bonus, it is commonplace to get a payment
for every draw. Everyone in a squad of 18, even the unused
substitutes, usually gets the bonus for Premier League and Championship clubs. Players might
also be eligible for 25 per cent for being part of the travelling party (even if they
do not get on the bench). In some cases it is “at the manager’s discretion,” although
further down the leagues there are clubs that operate by the simple rule: no win, no bonuses. The wording is important to prevent the kind
of disputes that led to a brief skirmish between Jamie Vardy and Leicester City when he made
his England debut, banking a £100,000 bonus in the process. Vardy’s contract stipulated
he was entitled to the money if he started or came on before the 75th minute. The confusion
was that he entered the play after 74 minutes and three seconds and, strictly speaking,
that was the 75th minute. Vardy got his money and, to put it into context,
one of the contracts seen by The Athletic shows how much an England footballer from
the 1990s received for international recognition. A lot less than Vardy, at £5,000 a cap. International bonuses are a regular feature
in Premier League contracts because of the reflected glory for the clubs and the general
belief that the valuation of a player goes up when he represents his country. They are
also written into the contracts at a number of Championship clubs, though sometimes more
for effect, in the same way that Manchester United have apparently offered Bruno Fernandes
a bonus for winning the Ballon d’Or. A number of clubs also operate a “positional
bonus”, whereby a sliding scale of payments is attached to the team’s league position
after every round of games. The higher up the table, the higher the bonus. And the more
appearances the player makes, the more he earns.
This is something Ferran Soriano successfully built upon as Barcelona’s general manager. Soriano, now the chief executive at Manchester
City, introduced a scheme whereby two-thirds of the players’ salaries were fixed and
the remainder was performance-related. Any player who appeared for 45 minutes or more
in 60% of the matches was entitled to bonuses up to £1.1 million at the end of the season,
whereas anybody who fell below that line got a reduced amount. To flick through the modern-day contract is
also to get a better understanding of why footballers are often so much more quotable
once they have stopped playing. At Manchester United, for example, there are
seemingly endless clauses relating to what is expected behaviour-wise. The idea is to
make sure the club always sparkles as a brand, without players expressing any negative opinion
in the media. The consequences are listed under the section “Disciplinary Procedure
and Penalties” and when you consider the amount of money that could be lost in fines
it becomes easier to understand why the players, on the whole, are willing to toe the line. The contract information obtained by the German
magazine Der Spiegel, then published in the Football Leaks book, offers the most mind-boggling
accounts about the riches on offer to the category-A players. The details, for example, of Arsenal paying
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang £18.2 million on top of his £198,000-a-week salary when he
signed from Borussia Dortmund, including a £15.15 million loyalty bonus and £50,000
every time he started a league match. Or, most remarkably, the “Champions League bonus”
of £2.26 million, which the striker purportedly received even though Arsenal had failed to
qualify. Star players earning star wages is nothing
new, of course. Kevin Keegan, who negotiated his own playing contracts, arranged himself
a cut of Newcastle United’s gate receipts when he moved to St James’ Park in 1982,
earning himself a fortune because of the sudden spike in attendances. Keegan was a trailblazer when it came to what
would now be called player-power, arranging a clause at both Liverpool and Hamburg that
he should be allowed to choose his next move as long as the potential buyer offered £500,000
for him. “In those days it was virtually unheard
of for footballers to insert those kinds of stipulations but it was my career and I wanted
to be in control of it,” Keegan explains in his autobiography. “I didn’t like the
idea that I might want to sign for one club only to be sold somewhere else — a club
I might not necessarily want to join — if a higher bid came in. Today, players are warned that handing in
a transfer request can mean relinquishing multi-million pound loyalty bonuses. The wording
of their contract states more clearly that a transfer happens only with the club’s
consent. In some cases, the contracts even state which clubs they are not allowed to
join. There have always been rumours of anti-Barcelona
clauses for Real Madrid players, and vice versa, and Liverpool never denied the Football
Leaks claim that Roberto Firmino had an anti-Arsenal stipulation in his contract — revenge, apparently,
for the London club trying to trigger Luis Suarez’s buyout in 2013 with the now-infamous
£40,000,001 bid. The biggest change, however, is undoubtedly
the advent of player-power in an era when the employees, rather than the employer, increasingly
call the shots. This is apparent in all sorts of ways, not least Carlos Tevez once having
a clause at Manchester City that he should always be their best-paid player (automatically
due an increase if anyone joined on higher wages). Yet it isn’t always about vast sums of money
and sometimes it is actually quite charming to see what is inside those documents, signed
off by the club secretaries and attached to a copy of the Football Association’s rules
on working with intermediaries. In July 2018, West Ham signed two Dutch players,
Esmee de Graaf and Tessel Middag, for their women’s team. They, too, wanted to have
contracts moulded to their own needs, starting their new lives in London. They each asked
for a bicycle.


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