We have successfully advised a former Latvian national Team Footballer in his dispute against his employer, a Latvian higher division club. Here are some of the key takeaways from the process, useful to know for everyone involved with Football.
Player vs. Club position
The football club had not paid salaries for several periods to the footballer. Due to complicated language in the contract and some illegal clauses, the club held the player on the nerves. On one hand, the player is right to claim the salary, on the other hand – the club has more capacity to go into legal disputes.
For an athlete in the decline of the career there is not much room to experiment – every month is more important that it would be at the beginning or early, or even mid-stages of the career.
Getting a release first
The complexity of football rules and regulations make it very difficult to just simply exit the employment relations and be in a good position also under the sporting side.
The first important strategic planning involved getting a timely, low-risk release from the de facto insolvent club to still try and save end of year 2022 season. The club had a growing tax bill, no business plan or reliable investor in perspective, but still with high hopes of selling some of its talent to survive.
First step was a success: the termination notice was served so that the club willingly accepted it, without involving its counter-claims based on contractual clauses that normally should be held invalid and void. The player was free to go. The season still can be saved, the player can now find a new club.
In a normal world an employee would seek the salary and the exit simultaneously. However, the football world is built differently and players have to manage possible retaliation from the clubs – it is sometimes worth more to keep yourself a good name, by forfeiting some money with hopes to get better deal with the next club.
That is of course not always the option, and you just navigate step by step.
Taking care of finances, secondly
Once it was ensured that the release letter was obtained, the work on second stage can begin: cashing in the unpaid salary.
After the federation had successfully established that the club had revoked its rights to the player’s registration, it is a lot easier to start claiming the unpaid salary. For the footballer it is not an easy time – the savings are decreasing, in hopes of finding a new employer, it is always good to have a lawyer with sports law knowledge to take care of the legal stuff. So that the athlete can focus on seeking new job, travel abroad if needed.
After navigating through the football law and finance issues, the player happily received the ruling in his favor, entitled to unpaid salaries which the club tried to dispute until the last possible moment.
Complication: pre-maturely terminated loan
It is always good to have some written proof of any periods when and why the player was not paid properly. A complication in our client’s case related to a loan to a club abroad, which was ended prematurely.
Always have an active contract
For loaned footballers it is important to always have either of the clubs responsible for the salary. Better to have them both responsible that the paycheck is there.
Which club has to pay for the period when employment with the loanee is terminated, but the loaning club (the club sending player out) has not yet taken the player back?
Unlucky for the footballer, the loan relations were arranged in a way that there were no explicit guarantees in case the loanee (club taking the player on loan) is terminating him before the pre-agree loan term. In this case all possible means of demonstrating how the player was denied return to the loaning club will be useful. Such proof might allow to receive salary for the time after leaving loanee.
Avoid exiting off-season
The Latvian football season usually is from March through November (“spring-autumn”). If the player gets loaned to a club with different calendar type (such as August-May / September-June, the “autumn-spring”), the different transfer windows might be an issue. Even more so – if the loan happens mid-season, or the loanee terminates the player mid-season.
Our client was loaned for a full season to a club with autumn-spring schedule, but was cut mid-season or a couple months before the Latvian season would start. The loaning club was in no rush to take him and his salary back immediately. The paperwork was done just in time to get him officially back only when it was needed (the actual matches).
Here is what we recommend to always consider if you are a footballer:
- Always consider the club’s prior reputation and manner of handling things.
- Yes, we understand, sometimes you are in such desperate situation that it is simply good to just have a club and a salary.
- It pays off to read the whole text, or have at least budget lawyer to read it. It is OK to ask if you don’t understand and see the reaction.
- Opt for short term contract, to get flexibility (also without massive financial obligations on either side, or even potential future clubs).
- Your only possibility to have your voice being heard is before the contract is signed, afterwards you might be in a position to just listen.
- Seek legal and financial advice, there are many sources – free information on the internet, pro bono programs and peers that have had similar experience in the past.
- Be aware of all deadlines – we managed to save the 2022 season just in time to find another club, and definitely having broad choice of options for the 2023 coming season.