Player faces hard task to ben­e­fit from dis­puted break clause

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By John Mehrzad QC John Mehrzad QC is a sports law spe­cial­ist at Lit­tle­ton Cham­bers

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

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