The player vs the transfer trap

Jon Holmes and Struan Marshall give an agents'-eye view of the transfer system and its effect on footballers

Related Topics
If this autumn the European Court of Justice rules that footballers' transfer fees should be done away with, there will be a sigh of relief from journeyman footballers all over the UK. There are very few other occupations where an employer can say, "Your contract has expired and I don't want you playing for me, but you're not going anywhere else unless the price is right."

In league football, most players sign with a club for contracts of two years or more. During that period, if both clubs agree, the player may transfer, on payment of a fee by the buying club. All clubs are in the habit of keeping each other advised of players who they are happy to consider for transfer (although if the price is right, almost any player can be bought, as the recent cases of Stan Collymore, Paul Ince and Andy Cole show). The players themselves never receive any money from the transfer fee between the clubs.

From the club's point of view, the player's value is much lower at the end of their contract, when, theoretically they become a free agent. The reality - a practice unique to football - is that the club holds the player's FA "registration" and does not have to release him until another club makes a satisfactory offer of a "compensation fee" to buy him. As long as the club continues to pay a basic wage, the player cannot leave.

Out of favour and out of luck, is it surprising that a player might resort to legal action, to challenge such extraordinary employment terms?

A player's contract is generally not renewed for one of two basic reasons: either the club is unwilling - or indeed unable - to renew, or the player does not want to extend his stay on the terms offered. Whether the problem is lack of goodwill or lack of funding, it is entirely logical that a fresh start should be made elsewhere.

All Football League contracts run until 30 June, and so it is about now that some players will have had the preliminary chat with the manager that will leave them in a no-man's land until another monied club steps in and whisks them away. Around 90 per cent of British professional footballers are valued at less than pounds 250,000. They have only the cushion of a modest signing-on fee, paid in instalments over the course of the contract, to supplement their basic wage (often around pounds 500 per week). The amount of the signing-on fee is entirely down to what the player, or his agent, can negotiate. So this time of year can be an incredibly nerve-wracking one for the average player about to see his contract expire.

The argument against abolishing transfer fees when contracts expire is that every June the top couple of dozen out of the UK's 132 clubs would be hovering over the prized players at smaller clubs, looking for rich free pickings, and drying up the life-blood cash injections that these smaller clubs depend on. But if the minnows have not been able to offer satisfactory contract terms to the ambitious player, should not another bigger club be allowed to handle him instead?

The argument against transfer fees during a contract, however, are less obvious. A player has made a commitment to his club: if he leaves part- way through, then that club deserves market-value compensation for the loss of his services.

From an agent's point of view, one positive aspect of transfer fees is that they can give an indication of a player's market value, which undoubtedly helps in negotiating comparable personal terms for him. On the other hand, it doesn't always necessarily work in the player's best interests. Nottingham Forest's manager, Frank Clark, will be delighted to have just agreed a transfer fee of pounds 8.5m for their striker Stan Collymore, probably bound for Liverpool. But how will Collymore feel? Possibly concerned that such an expensive purchase price will have left much less in the kitty for his new club to fund his personal remuneration package than if he'd been sold for, say, pounds 2.5m.

This year promises to be a landmark year in the regulation of soccer transfers. Earlier this year, a Scottish court outlawed a contract provision in which the club had an option, without reference to the player, to extend his five-year contract by four years. It is widely expected that the Jean-Marc Bosman case will result in reform eventually. It will still, however, be some while before anachronistic soccer managers cease to be referred to as "gaffer" or "boss" by their multimillion-pound players.

The authors work for Park Associates, a sports agency.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

What on earth has happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions