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The Football Lawyer: Taking the path less travelled

John Blavo

The Under-20 World Cup is well underway, and a new generation of stars are confidently stepping into global view. Scouts from many of the world’s leading clubs will descend upon the tournament, notebooks and mobile phones in hand, whilst several agents will wait in the wings. It is an exciting time for young footballers, who suddenly see the most thrilling of futures rolled out before them.

At the same time, it is a moment for caution. There is a danger of going to, say, the Premier League or Serie A too soon, and languishing in the reserves. Sometimes, then, it’s best not to leap straight towards the brightest and most obvious opportunity. In many cases, it’s advisable for a young player to go to a smaller club and put himself in a “shop window”, so to speak, where in a couple of years he will be attractive to a major club that is looking to make improvements to its first eleven.

This consideration is particularly important for players from Africa and South America, who face fairly strict visa restrictions when looking to move to certain countries in Europe. Fortunately, there are some nations in central and Eastern Europe – say, for example, Ukraine – which have far more relaxed requirements, and who are looking to use a flourishing football league as a way to build their prestige on the continent. These places provide an excellent platform upon which to build a lasting career at the very top level.

However, negotiating such a move can be a minefield, given that the players will typically be only 16 or 17 years old in most cases. The key to helping them make a successful move to such an unfamiliar environment is to have excellent contacts on the ground. There are some great local agents who have been doing work there for years, and so, as a firm, we would always look to go through one of them. Whenever putting together an agreement with a local agent, I use a robust legal framework; generally, I draw up contracts according to the laws of England and Wales, or the Geneva Convention. That way, it’s much easier to enforce your player’s rights in the event of any dispute.

Of course, clubs can also invite a player for trial, in which case they would offer him a 15-day visa which can be extended fairly easily to a year if he impresses them in his fortnight there. I would certainly recommend outstanding young players to look carefully at starting out in central or Eastern Europe. It might not seem to be the most direct avenue to the summit of the game, but it offers a fantastic opportunity to advertise your worth, particularly with the increasingly impressive performances of clubs like Shakhtar Donetsk and CFR Cluj in the Uefa Champions League. If the player settles in well, and things go well on the field, then they can be looking at a major move in as little as 12 to 18 months. It’s a path less travelled, certainly, but it’s one worth walking.

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