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The Changing landscape of Football contracts

With the NINE YEAR signing of Saul Niguez, have Atletico Madrid set a precedent for the way in which contracts will be negotiated?

Club Atletico de Madrid v SD Eibar - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

In a football world dominated by large amounts of cash with owners desperate to succeed and make a few bob in the process, we are entering a new dawn where contracts and transfers may be changing. The Saul Niguez deal saw Atletico Madrid breaking FIFA regulations on a maximum contract of five years, but this could lead to new legislation that will benefit both clubs and players.

This is purely my speculation but I cannot help but think that if I ran a football club I would want to protect my assets in the best way I possibly can and by assets I mean players. Let me tell you the reasons why this is something clubs should consider.

Arsenal are a prime example of a club that struggles with contract negotiations: they have lost players like Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie & potentially Alexis Sanchez/Mesut Ozil because they feared they would walk away for free at the end of their contracts. Not only do they end up with a smaller fee for a player, they also lose a huge asset that they paid a lot of money for.

FC Barcelona v Arsenal FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Dejection: Ozil and Sanchez during Arsenals Champions League exit. A similar feeling Arsenal fans will have if their 2 key men leave.
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

How could Arsenal avoid this problem? How about you offer longer deals? If you pay £40 million for Alexis Sanchez you are making a large investment, so why not protect that asset by slapping an eight year contract on him, offering him security in every sense? Sanchez could also negotiate a highest earner clause in that contract, protecting him from falling victim to a further rise in his teammates wages. Arsenal get the comfort of knowing Sanchez is signed through his prime years without fear of losing him because of a contract dispute and the man himself feels in control of his future, allowing him to commit completely.

Let's look at this from another angle too - an American angle. In major league American sports we see clubs sign their marquee players to huge contracts for up to ten years. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is about to pen a ten year, $106 million dollar contract. The New York Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a massive ten year, $275 million deal! The American owners know the importance of securing their main men to massive deals, paying them hugely for the comfort of knowing they will compete for honours with them.

Edmonton Oilers v San Jose Sharks - Game Three
Connor McDavid is getting a $100 million plus deal for 8 years.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Now, I am not suggesting that every contract in football needs to be a huge nine year deal, but it surely is wise of owners now to protect their assets by contracting them for longer periods. When Manchester United signed Paul Pogba for example, they would have been smart to secure his services throughout the peak of his career. Instead they gave him five years. This means Pogba could potentially walk free when he is at his best with Manchester United not being fully compensated for the massive £100 million transfer fee.

The lengthening of a contract beyond the traditional five years does create risks for both parties, admittedly; a club could be stuck with an 'albatross' contract if a player breaks their leg on the first day of pre season, or if the player is overrated and doesn't perform to expectations. The player, too, could transfer to a club in the hope of winning trophies but instead spend their peak years stuck in a rut, embroiled in red tape.

But those sticking points could easily be averted because players and clubs could control the contracts with clauses. The player could insert a relegation release clause similar to Jermain Defoe's at Sunderland this summer or the club could put a wage decrease on a player if the team is relegated. They could even work out buyout fees, whereby they can cancel the contract with a player for a certain amount of money if the transfer doesn't work out. Even if those issues could not be avoided, the lengthening of contracts has its upside.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League
Jermain Defoe had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave Sunderland for free this summer.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The positives to both player and club are surely enough to outweigh the negatives. If a club like Swansea for example has a player like Gylfi Sigurdsson: this summer they could offer him a seven year deal worth £100 million, making him their star man to build the team around. In this scenario Sigurdsson also gets the comfort of knowing he can keep his family in the same place and make a lot of money in the process. The club can plan to build around certain players and know that they won't lose those players on the cheap because they only have twelve months left on their current contract. Clubs could also offer a longer term deal in the hope a player drops their asking price for the sake of tenure; if a player wants a five year deal at £50,000 a week, the club could offer him £40,000 but for an additional two years, providing the player the extra security he desires to push the deal over the line, and lowering their weekly wage bill in the process.

Ultimately in the current football climate, clubs are at the whim of the players and the lengthening of contracts would give clubs a bit more power over those assets. Locking players up for longer deals means that losing players to the Bosman transfer becomes less likely, and it gives them the comfort of knowing that a player is commiting their peak years to the club. For these reasons I believe the biggest clubs in the world would be wise to start offering players contracts beyond the traditional five years.