The understandable confusion relating to when or indeed if, this current football season will end throws up some interesting conundrums for the transfer market generally, and specifically for players due to be out of contract by 30 June 2020 and their current clubs. Alongside other contractual issues which would arise, this is thought to be one of the primary movers for the call to complete the season by 30 June (no matter how unlikely it would appear).
Although the governing bodies have stated a great desire to maximise the safety and well being of all involved in football, it is clear their desire for completion before 30 June 2020 across Europe would be to ensure that these difficulties do not come about – if at all possible.
Realistically of course, there is almost no conceivable chance of football returning let alone concluding the season before 30 June. The assumption must be that the season will be extended rather than facing a partially completed but concluded season with or without Champions, relegation and promotion. An incomplete but concluded season, no doubt would end up in numerous court rooms across Europe. One can only imaging the number of significant contractual disputes that would arise from clubs, sponsors, commercial partners and broadcasters.
Let’s go back to an extended season and what it means for Everton and our “out of contract” players.
For Everton, we have four current players whose contracts expire on 30 June 2020, Stekelenburg, Baines, Martina and Niasse. We also have Garbutt, currently on loan at Ipswich but due to return on 31st May before his contract expires on 30 June.
In usual circumstances the season is well over and on 1st July the “out of contract” players are free agents, no longer employed by their former clubs. Typically, if not leaving the game, they move to new clubs after this date, on free transfers. Incidentally, although technically the European transfer window is due to open on June 10th, new registrations cannot occur until the opening of FIFA’s Transfer Matching System on 1st July.
However, the almost certain delay to the end of the season beyond 30th June makes matters difficult for all concerned.
Firstly, there are grave questions to be had regarding sporting integrity if players (out of or in contract) can move to different clubs with approximately one quarter of the season and the major Cup Finals still to play (assuming the season hasn’t re-started at this date).
Thus it might make sense for the European Leagues , having decided to complete their seasons (if that’s what is decided) to want to agree to postpone the start of the transfer window until completion of the current season.
Whilst that would not impact “in contract” players other than delaying planned future moves, where does that leave “out of contract” players? It would be unreasonable in the extreme, to deny them the right to move to new clubs once their existing contracts have ended on 30th June. So unreasonable in fact, as to almost certainly create legal challenges in respect of restrain of trade.
So what are the options?
- Allow the window to open as planned but have the prospect of both “out of contract” and “in contract” players moving clubs at what would then be a critical part of the end of the season (assuming at some point these games are played over the summer to conclusion).
- Allow “out of contract” players to extend their existing contracts to the season end, but the assumption here is that both players and their original club are happy to do so. Would Everton be prepared voluntarily to extend the contracts of Stekelenburg, Martina, Niasse and Garbutt, possibly for an undefined period? – something that is extremely unlikely in my opinion.
- Compel both clubs and “out of contract” players to extend contracts until whenever the season is deemed to have ended and then open the window immediately after.
Option 3 might appear the neatest option as extending the contract to the season end, whilst involving changing the date (possibly undefined), remains consistent with the original intention of the contract.
However it would require the agreement of FIFA, UEFA, the Leagues, the clubs, agents, potential future clubs and the players themselves. If either club or player failed to agree, how could an extension be enforced? Would the player or club, depending on who had the upper hand from a negotiation perspective, try to renegotiate terms? All of these questions are difficult to answer with certainty.
For Everton it is almost inconceivable that we would want to extend existing terms to all but Baines (who may have a contract extension anyway by this time). Similarly for many other clubs for whom cash may become a problem if as expected football’s finances deteriorate, the idea of extending unwanted players’ contracts is not attractive.
All decisions in football are going to be determined by much more important events across Europe in the coming months. On top of the huge difficulties almost all of us will face in the coming months, the administrators of our game face many important decisions.
Whilst the contractual fates of a few young men pale into insignificance with what is unfolding before us, decisions will have to be made in the game, and despite what goes on more importantly elsewhere, it is still right to seek the best solutions in football for when our game returns. It’s also good to have discussion points to distract us for a while.