Small print leads to big problems

As Premier League transfer activity intensifies, armies of sports lawyers are poised for an orgy of t-crossing and i-dotting on complicated contracts.

Small print leads to big problems

Confusion over Luis Suarez’s exit clause might have played its part in last summer’s major saga, but the fine print in a deal can also deliver many benefits for players, clubs and managers.


When Spencer Prior signed for Cardiff in 2001, club chairman and banter enthusiast Sam Hammann insisted on a clause in the defender’s contract compelling him to enjoy “a physical liaison with a sheep and eat sheep’s testicles” during his Ninian Park stay.

Hamann generously waived the ovine relations requirement, but Prior grimaced through a plate of the delicacy, or so he thought.

Hammann told him afterwards it was chicken.


Liverpool didn’t always leave loose ends untied. When Stig Inge Bjornebye arrived at Anfield in 1992, any lingering ambitions to emulate his Olympian dad’s ski jump achievements were scuppered by a contractual ban on winter sports. Nowadays, clauses banning adventure sports are common.

But in 1999, far-sighted Sunderland added a clause precluding astronomy-fancying Swedish midfielder Stefan Schwarz from travelling into space while he was still wearing the candystripes.


Liverpool were also one of the first clubs off the mark with the now common buyback clause. But even in 1977, they were chancing their arm a little with the legals. When Kevin Keegan left for Hamburg, club secretary Peter Robinson did his best to secure first refusal on a return, but didn’t sound convinced. “I would not like to say whether this agreement is legally binding. It could possibly be considered a restraint of trade.”


If clubs are understandably anxious to protect themselves against players overdoing it off the field, there are also clauses to deal with the footballer who wears a beaten path between sofa and fridge. When Crystal Palace signed the well-padded Neil Ruddock, chairman Simon Jordan insisted on an automatic 10% penalty on Razor’s wages if he tipped the scales above a quite generous 220 pound allowance.


Some of the more hands-on Premier League chairmen of recent times might be interested in a more delicate form of control freakery. Creative contract crafter Sam Hamman is again the trailblazer in this area, this time during his Wimbledon days. When Bobby Gould took over as manager, his employment contract allegedly allowed Hamman to change Gould’s team selection up to 45 minutes before any match. Gould later claimed the clause was never activated.


A typical Premier League contract will nail down a range of relocation entitlements — particularly for an overseas arrival — such as hotel stays, rent allowances and free flights home. But legend has it that one of Paul Gascoigne’s contracts insisted that he be housed near a fishing lake, while unreconstructed Congolese midfielder Rolf-Christel Guie-Mien apparently hammered out a deal with Eintracht Frankfurt that his inconvenience be alleviated by free cooking lessons for his wife.


It is widely known that Dennis Bergkamp insisted on a clause in his Arsenal contracts specifying that he couldn’t be forced on board an aeroplane. Also sensing turbulence up ahead, German Bernd Stange insisted on two clauses when he took over as Iraq manager in 2002. The first excused him from any political comment in interviews or press conferences, quite a negotiating feat since he reported directly to Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. The second allowed him to leave the post if war broke out. “If war comes, my job is finished because all the soccer players will have to go to the army and many of them will die,” he said at the time. Stange left Baghdad before the US invasion a year later, but returned to guide the team to fourth at the 2004 Olympics.


It’s not all about wins and goals and assists, just how do you measure improvement? In cash, of course. When Charlie Adam left Blackpool for Liverpool, his manager, Ian Holloway, revealed his contract entitled him to a cut of the transfer fee of any player that he coached at the club.

But not everyone is driven by his bank balance. Variety-loving German striker Giuseppe Reina apparently reached an agreement that Arminia Bielefeld would build him a new house during each year of his three-year contract.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

  • 4
  • 13
  • 30
  • 40
  • 45
  • 47
  • 11

Full Lotto draw results »