If there is one thing that the Wayne Rooney contract saga at Manchester United has taught us, it is that clubs are no longer in control of their players. Through various transfer rulings by FIFA, designed to bring football into lines with ‘other industries’, the power has gradually shifted to the individual, enabling players like Rooney to effectively hold their clubs to ransom.
This situation occurred because of Article 17 of FIFA’s ‘Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players’. In essence this article states that any footballer between the ages of 23 and 28 can leave a club so long as they have fulfilled at least 3 years of their contract, regardless of the length of said contract. Moreover, any player over the age of 28 can walk out on their respective club having served only 2 years of their contract, the only stipulation being that they must pay their clubs any outstanding wages, essentially buying themselves out of their contract. For example, if Manchester United had held into Cristiano Ronaldo until the summer of 2010, then the player would have been able to walk away from the club, paying them a compensation of outstanding wages to the tune of around £10m, a paltry amount considering his £80m move to Real Madrid in 2009.
So, with long-term contracts not being worth the paper they are written on, how do clubs shift the power balance away from players in the current climate? Surely the answer is simple; only offer players short-term or medium-term contracts.
Players like Wayne Rooney are always going to be able to take control and be in command of their own destinies. If a player like Rooney wants more money, then, invariably he will get it one way or another as was proven in October. If you are good enough at what you do in any industry, then you will have people clamouring for your services, whatever the cost.
But where I believe clubs can regain power is through their more ‘mid-level’ players, ones who are on the fringes of the first team and often spend time on the bench, collecting lucrative wage packets, without necessarily offering their club anything to justify it. If, under Article 17, long-term contracts are essentially just gestures of goodwill, then why not offer players under 28 a 3 year contract, and players over 28 a 2 year contract? Or even better still offer players 1 year contracts?
By offering a player a 1 year contract you are still saying you have faith in their ability, but that they have to work hard to be offered a contract extension. On a 5 year deal, players will almost inevitably become complacent, knowing that they are going to collect huge wages regardless of performance or actual value to the club.
A one year contract gives the power back to clubs with players who aren’t as sought-after as the Wayne Rooneys and Cristiano Ronaldos of this world. They could lose out on transfer fees, but it is what could feasibly have happened anyway with a longer term contract under Article 17. It also means that wages can reflect performances. If your displays for a club are good, you can be offered an extension to your contract with your salary reflecting your hard-work.
Shorter-term contracts would represent a power shift towards the clubs whilst still being in-line with FIFA regulations, and although it will not stop players of the highest calibre holding clubs to ransom, it will certainly let most players know who is in control.