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Football and contracts: Does it pay to have a long-term deal?

Paulo Dybala could leave Juventus on a free in the summer
Paulo Dybala could leave Juventus on a free in the summer Copyright ISABELLA BONOTTO/AFP
By Euronews
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With the contracts of some of football’s biggest names coming to an end this summer, are players now less inclined to put pen to paper on a new deal?

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What do Kylian Mbappe, Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba and Luka Modric have in common?

They have all excelled at some of European football's biggest clubs and have generated transfer fees of around 450 million Euros, but all could be on the move for a grand total of nothing, at least in terms of transfer fees this summer.

Football's transfer windows generate massive publicity in the sport. The mix of speculation, gossip, and the astronomical amount of money grabs supporters' attention, particularly during the off-season when no games are played.

In the last decade, French side Paris Saint-Germain completed two of the biggest transfers in the game's history. In 2018, 20-year-old Kylian Mbappe switched from AS Monaco to PSG for the gigantic fee of €180 million. That price tag was still considerably less than the €222 million Barcelona had accepted from the newly cash-rich French side 12 months earlier, which brought Neymar to Paris.

The Parisian side signed footballing giants Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Gini Wijnaldum and, most notably, Lionel Messi, all on free transfers in 2021. Saving money on fees gives them more money to spend on contracts. Outside of the contract clause, the combined transfer fees for the quartet would have stretched into the hundreds of millions of Euros but having not spent a penny, it was safe to say Les Parisien's had 'won' this particular transfer window.

Francois Mori/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Gini Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi all joined PSG on a freeFrancois Mori/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The 'Bosman Ruling'

Named after Jean-Marc Bosman, a relatively unknown footballer whose actions have contributed to the huge wealth players are afforded today. The origins go back to the 1990s and refer to a footballer moving to another club on a free transfer. The clause is popularly referred to as a 'Bosman'.

The Belgian took his club to the European Court of Justice in 1995, arguing that a transfer fee was a restraint of trade since he could not move between teams without a fee being paid. After a long legal battle, he was awarded compensation, but modern-day footballers are the real winners. As a result, the influx of money from broadcast deals into football is more likely to end up in players' pockets than the owners' pockets, as they were now free to move across Europe.

Player power

As contracts end, more and more players opt to leave for free. Why are players taking their future into their own hands at such a rapid rate? Media and Sports Lawyer Andy May states:

"I think it's fair comment to say that players are now more relaxed and more open to letting their contract run down. There's certainly more money around in football than five or ten years ago, with the enhanced television broadcast deals not only for the Premier League but also for leagues literally all over the world. So you might have seen in the past that players would be not desperate but very keen for their contracts to be renewed at their current club. Now there's more of a relaxed feeling because there are options available not only in the Premier League if they're a Premier League player or in Serie A if they play in Italy, but further afield where they will be remunerated in a similar fashion, maybe even better than where they currently are."

Football agent Mino Raiola has a big say on the future of some of football's biggest namesMANU FERNANDEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Loyalty: a thing of the past?

Is loyalty a thing of the past for the modern-day player? Nowadays, one-club men and legends such as AC Milan's Paulo Maldini, Roma's Francesco Totti, and Barcelona's Carles Puyol may be exceptions. Everton's Leon Osman joined the club as a boy and spent a quarter of a century at the Merseyside club. So why did he stay at Goodison Park so long?

"Because it worked. Simply, I was providing a service for the club, and the club was close to my heart. I was absolutely enjoying my time at Everton. I was a local lad. So my family and friends are all in the area. There was no need for me to go in search of more because I was playing Premier League football at the top end of the Premier League table. It doesn't come without desire. A bit of luck, a lot of hard work personally to make sure that you stay relevant, stay fit and sharp, provide assists and goals, and the manager really wants you. But ultimately, all of those things came together, and that's why I stayed so long."

Peter Byrne/ap
Midfielder Leon Osman remained an Everton player throughout his careerPeter Byrne/ap

However, the former England international level believes the days of players staying at one club for most of their careers like Steven Gerrard, Xavi, and Andre Iniesta is coming to an end.

"I think as fans, we want everybody to be loyal. We want everyone to love our club the way that we do. We can't understand when somebody comes in and doesn't instantly get the same feeling about our club that we have. You've seen players leave because they aren't playing or want a better contract. Similarly, from clubs, when loyal players are coming to the end of their careers, or there's a certain situation, clubs will move players on. In my opinion, the days of players starting their careers at one club and continuing them at just a few teams may be over. I think most players now will switch five-plus clubs in their career."

As the end of the season approaches, there will be plenty of transfers, but the biggest moves might not be all about the most significant fees. Many players could be thinking more about the future than the end of the season.

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