“You sign an agreement; you make a contract, you live up to it. You never get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate. You got a right to say yay or nay…”
Rooney coming home, Vardy back in form, Giroud off the bench, Matic in Manchester, Lukaku looking awesome and the champions looking ordinary; Stephen “the white Pele” Ward; the opening weekend of the Premier League actually lived up to hype and looked like the most thrilling competition in the world. There are so many intriguing and exciting talking points from the maiden fixtures that it’s hard to know where to start! How about contract law?
Amid all the bombast and razzmatazz in the build up to the premier league’s return, including the incredible swelling in the transfer market, there is an interesting tale of two contracts unfolding between two of the top teams in the world. One involves a precocious young Brazilian who simply wants to fulfil his dreams by grabbing an opportunity that may never come about again. At 25 years of age and reaching the prime of his short career, he wants to reach the very pinnacle of the game. He has a once in a lifetime chance to play with the best player ever. Who would stand in his way?
The other tale involves another Brazilian; one who became a Spaniard to further his career. He is a seasoned warrior and proven goal scorer, however he is also an incorrigible lunatic who plays by nobody’s rules but his own. At 29 years of age he was deemed surplus to requirements and his manager decided that this guy had to go. He was told to find a new club.
Coutinho and Costa, Liverpool and Chelsea; different people and very different players, at different clubs, both in starkly contrasting situations but both also in prisons of their own making. Like Moses and God, King John and the Magna Carta, or Faust and the Devil they have entered into contracts of their own volition. Can they expect any sympathy from the masses who idolise and acclaim them as heroes?
Contracts have been around a long time. Beginning with simple receipts from trading, to basic agreements between a ruler and his people. After the initial social-contract, where men began to realise that the chances for survival increased substantially when we commune together, written contracts first emerged in modern-day Iran/Iraq around 4,500 years ago. Contracts continued to develop and change as they became more common in ancient Greece, Rome, Asia, and particularly in England during the middle ages. The more they developed the more complicated they became. By the late 20th century it seemed that most people who were in employment were signed up to some sort of contractual agreement. However, throughout all these developments one-thing remains constant; a contract no matter the content must be a binding agreement, which is agreed to by both parties.
It always seemed quite simple really, which is why it is difficult to understand why football contracts in particular are constantly broken. It seems absurd that someone, club or player, can renege on a contract so soon after it has been agreed. Coutinho is less than eight months into a five year deal. Costa is in the middle of a deal that should see him stay at Stamford Bridge until 2019 but clearly had his loyalty tested by huge wage increases from China. Are any of the parties involved in these relations morally obliged to fulfil their agreements?
The answer, technically, is no. The thinking behind modern contractual philosophy is that it is morally acceptable to break a lawfully binding contract if certain unforeseen contingencies arise that were not addressed in the written or verbal agreement. The Costa case is clear enough in that it seems both parties wish to break their agreement. Costa has come out this week claiming that Chelsea are treating him like a criminal. He wanted out of the club last year and the club now want him to go. All that is left to do now is to reach some sort of compromise as to how each party will be compensated for breach of contract that both parties want to breach! Not much sympathy required here. The Coutinho case is very different.
Coutinho surely must have known what he was signing when he put pen to paper on that contract in January of this year. If he did not then he should fire his agent and advisors. If there was no release-clause in his contract, he should fire his-agent and advisors. The dogs on the street could tell you two years ago that Coutinho was on Barcelona’s radar and that they would eventually move to reunite him with Suarez if his progress continued. This is the contingency his negotiators should have foreseen. If the people who negotiated his contract didn’t allow for this contingency, they should be fired. Whatever way you look at it, Liverpool FC are the aggrieved party here and are well within their rights to hold their player to the agreement. But that doesn’t mean they should.
Some ex-players have come out and said that this is a “big test” for LiverpoolFootballClub. The outcome of this saga will determine if LFC remain a world super-power, or simply prove that they have become a boutique selling-club. However it seems that these great football men are conveniently ignoring another trope that they are fond of rolling out in the situations, that no one player is bigger than the club.
Liverpool look desperate. Desperate not to upset their fans, desperate to hold on to one of their best players, desperate not to look small. But that is how they are beginning to appear. The player wants to go. He has had his head, mind and body turned. He probably feels a cultural yearning to leave the dreary north of England for more familiar climes. Every fibre of his being is likely to be screaming out to play for Barcelona. And if they can’t find a decent replacement for €150 million then they should fire their scouting network.
Just let him go, wish him luck, and continue doing what you have been doing for the past 125 years; being Liverpool football club. From Keegan to Dalglish, Rush to Gerrard, the great players come and go. It’s time to let this one go to make room for the next one.