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The Football Lawyer: The pressure of transfer deadline day is incredible

John Blavo
Demba Ba 300x225 The Football Lawyer: The pressure of transfer deadline day is incredible

Demba Ba's agent secured a brilliant deal

In football, there is nothing quite like the day that the January transfer window finally slams shut.  Some clubs will do their deals at the start of the month, looking to integrate their new signings into their squads as quickly as they can.  Many others, however, will play a game of commercial brinkmanship, holding out until the very last minute to pay the lowest possible price.  Often, it’s these closing moments before the transfer deadline that can make or break a player’s season, and possibly even his career.

As a lawyer, the pressures on that last day are incredible.  In the rush to get everything done, there is the danger that terms that are verbally agreed over the phone are not included in the final text of the written agreement.  And not only do you have to contend with the contractual negotiations, but there are also logistics to consider. Most clubs will require a medical before the deal is signed, especially if the player is from South America, Africa or mainland Europe.  Sometimes they will require the player’s presence for this, and so you will have to see that he is transported to the club in time.

This scramble could arguably be avoided if clubs just sorted their business out a few days in advance.  Sadly, though, it’s not always that straightforward. Out of the blue, crucial players may signal their desire to leave, leaving clubs with a potential gap in their squad that they must urgently fill. The process is a little like buying a house: if you get the exchange wrong, you could end up with two purchases on your hands or none.

On one occasion, a player arriving from Brazil had his contract faxed over to us just in time, literally a few minutes before the deadline, so I was with an interpreter who translated the agreement from Portuguese so that I could discuss the terms still in dispute.  We managed to get this deal done in time.  Another time, sadly, we were not so fortunate.  A player was coming from Europe to join a Premier League side, and was just about to catch a connecting flight to London to his new club.  However, the two parties then disagreed over the fee, and he then had to turn around and fly home.  Upset by how his dream move had fallen through, he then found himself treated like damaged goods. His club were resentful of his desire to depart, they then denied him a regular run of games, and, perhaps inevitably, his form sharply declined.

One way to avoid such scenarios is to have a bespoke pre-contract agreement in place, such as that which Manchester United had with Real Madrid for the £80m transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo.  It’s also important to give a player some flexibility, which is why Demba Ba’s agent did a fantastic job in negotiating a low release fee for him.  There’s nothing unusual about a player coming to the Premier League for a couple of seasons and treating his club as a shop window for a move somewhere bigger: in fact, it can be mutually beneficial for him and his team.

Agents, of course, are hugely influential in this process, and the right one can help a player make the perfect plans for his career progression; where they want to be in 3 years, in 5 years, and so on.  However, there are many cases where a player doesn’t have the right team around him, and he becomes conservative: sticking to the agent who brought him to the club, merely because that’s what he knows.  Several times I have seen people, who don’t formally represent the player but have close emotional ties to him,  make last-gasp interventions on his behalf, with disastrous results.

Everything, then, must be perfectly synchronised for a deal to go through.  Even after eleven years of working through the transfer window, an issue of fresh complexity always seems to emerge.  This period is as exciting as any in my career, and as ever I look forward to it: albeit with a lot of coffee, and a couple of crossed fingers.

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