The Football Lawyer: Brazil, Qatar, Manchester City and FFP – some legal homework for the summer months

John Blavo

yaya toure 620 300x154 The Football Lawyer: Brazil, Qatar, Manchester City and FFP   some legal homework for the summer monthsThe World Cup is on its way, and soon some of the planet’s best players will be in a very tempting and wholly global shop window. Here’s where we enter that awkward period for buying clubs, who are seeking to secure deals before the signings they’ve targeted experience a surge in value. At least, that’s what we saw back in 2010, the last time this tournament came around. Those who are slow off the mark, or who sign players off the back of star showings in these finals, may end up with buyer’s remorse, which is why Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has been a very vocal critic of doing so. (Even he once did this, purchasing Andrey Arshavin based on an excellent showing at Euro 2008.)

From a lawyer’s vantage point, though, I can’t see too much changing at the very top end of the market. The world’s best footballers only have a very small pool of new destinations to choose from, and most of those individuals have recently penned multi-year deals. On that note, it was a little surprising to see Yaya Toure going so public so early with what looks like either a desire to leave or to renegotiate a freshly-inked contract. At 31, he is the game’s leading box-to-box midfielder and arguably, along with Dani Alves, Neymar and Vincent Kompany, its foremost spokesperson against racism. He is in a supreme bargaining position, and it is a startling way for him to have played his hand.

Speaking of Manchester City, it’s interesting to see how their punishment under Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules has been viewed in the industry. Some have shrugged at the sizeable fine, remarking that £49 million is nothing to a club of Manchester City’s wealth; having said that, it’s difficult to imagine what size of fine could be imposed upon the assets of the club’s owners without seeming not only punitive but vindictive. There’s an argument that, to a club of Manchester City’s means, status is more important than money, which is why the fine may actually have been more damaging on a symbolic level than we appreciate. In any event, the ruling is intended to show that no-one is above the law, no matter how well-funded their legal team.

The issue that will most harm Yaya Toure’s (current) club is the restriction on the size of its Uefa Champions League squad, which has been cut from 25 to 21 with a requirement that eight of those be homegrown.  However, Uefa seems to be in the process of reducing this “homegrown” requirement to five, which severely dilutes the strength of this sanction: if we’re going to see any vigorous legal activity over the next few months, it’s probably in this area.

Legal issues are also hanging over not just this World Cup, but future ones.  An investigation into the tax arrangements of Luis Felipe Scolari, the Brazil coach, has coincided with his team’s preparations for next month’s tournament.  Meanwhile, looking ahead to 2022, it may be that trouble is brewing again. Sepp Blatter commented last week that it had been “a mistake” to award the World Cup tournament to Qatar, stating that “the technical report into Qatar said clearly it was too hot but the executive committee – with a large majority – decided all the same to host it [there].”  This revelation, hastily denied by Fifa, may lead to renewed scrutiny as to why Qatar was the chosen host in the first place.

Specifically, Australia might think of resurrecting its £25million claim for compensation on the basis that the tournament was improperly awarded.  Last November, Fifa’s general secretary Jerome Valcke replied “no, no, no” to the suggestion that any such claim might have any legal basis, but Australia won’t be the only party keeping an eye on developments.  Fox, the US broadcasting company, has paid £630million for the World Cup rights up to 2022, and a winter tournament is reportedly not what they had planned for.

All in all, then, it looks to be an intriguing World Cup away from the pitch, with a steady rumble of legal challenges against Uefa going on in the background.  Of course, though, we’ll all find the time to step out of the office, and enjoy the endeavours of Rooney, Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and co (with one eye firmly on the Blackberry, as ever).

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  • falanf

    The Guardian and Times campaigns, though laudable, will come to nothing because the people in charge in Qatar just don’t care. They have bribed their way to the WC and will just go ahead while making noises but doing nothing to improve the lot of their workers. And FIFA will do nothing because the price has been paid and they realize that the Qataris will blow the bribery whistle on them if they act. Similarly, the spineless FA will not simply withdraw from the 2022 competition, as they should, and set an example for other countries to then withdraw.
    So, all those who think like me should do one, simple, thing…..
    just don’t go. Let their airlines fly empty, let their hotel rooms remain empty and let the teams play in empty stadiums.

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