Should football clubs look to start introducing these long deals?

Alan Pardew Newcastle United Manager

Newcastle’s eight-year contract given to Alan Pardew in September was largely unheard of. Never mind the need to keep an eye out for the financial hit should the club decide to break the contract early, but four or five-year deals are much closer to the norm than anything approaching double figures.

Before last season kicked off, it would have seemed unthinkable that Alan Pardew of all managers would be given such a contract. At this stage, following a successful season in which European football was secured and the purchase of a host of excellent talents, Newcastle are rightly locking up their asset and any future successes and throwing away the key. Perhaps it’s time for other clubs to start following suit.

Arsenal are one of the teams who should be high up on the list. It seems clear that four or five-year contracts just don’t work at Arsenal. Whether it’s the club’s lack of desire to tie down their players in prompt fashion or if it’s just the effects of a team who are arguably going stale, Arsenal simply can’t move forward when they’re losing their best players in such a manner.

Cesc Fabregas was offered a deal in 2006 which saw the Spaniard tied down for eight-years, and that was the right call. He did receive pay rises over the reminder of his time at the club, but it was a move that should have started a trend at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s team are not, or at least were not filled with players approaching their ‘last contract.’ People like Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should see their futures tied to the club in a way that at least gives Arsenal some room to manoeuvre should they want out.

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It’s the norm in America, and part of the reason for the NHL’s current lockout is the disagreement on contract lengths from the point of view of the clubs. Things work a little differently in America, but players want to chase the contracts that guarantee them of eight, ten, or in two cases 15-years worth of pay. Up until this point, it seemed like NHL owners had a similar view in locking up their greatest assets for the best part of their careers.

The view in football is now that contracts mean nothing, that players can easily wriggle their way out of contractual agreements and force moves elsewhere. In the case of Arsenal, that was certainly the scenario that presented itself when Fabregas moved to Barcelona. But Daniel Levy at Tottenham is refreshingly trying to buck that trend and help swing the power back in favour of clubs.

Levy’s move—and it was incredibly quick—to tie down both Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale towards the end of the summer was nothing other than smart management of the situation. Neither were the long contracts that are being highlighted in the case of Pardew or in the NHL, but it was an act of further protecting himself when the time eventually comes for either player to leave.

It seems increasingly likely that Bale is on his way out in the near future, but like the case with Luka Modric, a lengthy contract gives Levy plenty of support in his battles against the Chelseas or Real Madrids. Maybe the player won’t perform to his maximum if he’s held at a club against his wishes. Well that view only gives want-away players more ammunition to fire at their clubs. What Levy is doing, and what increased contract lengths could do, is begin the process of taking away player power.

It’s very difficult to protect football teams across all the divisions and Europe in the same way that American teams are protected: the methods simply won’t work. But there really isn’t much in the way of a safety net from a five-year contract. And arguably it’s not really five-years, it’s actually three. The final two being that negotiation period that no club really wants to enter; it’s the period where the power shifts away from the club and onto the player.

Will we see situations such as the one which presented itself to Alex Ferguson and Manchester United when Wayne Rooney decided he wanted out? At the time, the player had less than two-years on his contract and seemed likely, if only for a brief moment, to be on his way out. What about Athletic Bilbao and their position in no man’s land with Fernando Llorente?

With the current climate in football of ever-present agents, clubs on the other end tapping up players and the lack of substance in contracts, can football clubs really afford not to look at options for longer contract lengths? Even with the promise of increased wages, it appears that many are doing very little to secure their assets for the long term.


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