Player faces hard task to benefit from disputed break clause
Lionel Messi could find it difficult to win a legal battle with Barcelona over the proper meaning of the disputed break clause in his contract. If an English player contract contains a specific date upon which a clause expires then, as far as the law is concerned, a date is a date.
It seems Messi is attempting to argue that the June deadline for him to activate a clause allowing him to leave Barcelona for no fee was intended to refer not to a specific date, but rather a particular event, “the end of the season” – which was postponed this year because of the coronavirus crisis.
That postponement in March raised similar issues over player contracts that were due to expire on June 30, particularly whether they would come to an end then or would be automatically extended until the end of a resumed season.
In a bid to avoid players walking out on clubs, Fifa issued guidelines stating that, in its view, the expiry date of June 30 was intended to mean “the end of the season”. There is some irony, therefore, that Messi’s adoption of the same interpretation would have the opposite effect; that he could walk out of his contract without any compensation payable to Barcelona.
The June 30 cut-off has come up in numerous player-related contracts I have looked at. One provided that: “If a bid for the player comes in before the end of the season, which is at this sum or above, the club is obliged to accept it.”
The club thought that clause automatically expired on June 30 because that was when the season had been scheduled to end when the contract was agreed by the parties. Of course, that was not what happened in reality. When a bid was submitted to the club in July at the threshold sum, the club said: “No, this clause isn’t triggered”.
However, because the clause was drafted on the occurrence of a particular event – “before the end of the season” – the player was able to argue successfully that the clause was still in effect and had been triggered. That allowed the player to leave for a relatively modest transfer fee below their market value.
The difficulty for Messi is there appears to be a specific date in his contract, beyond which he no longer retains the right to terminate it for no fee. If it had said instead “before the end of the season”, he would be in a stronger position.
Fifa’s guidelines stated the expiry date of June 30 intended to mean the end of the season