As ever it feels like little or no time has elapsed between the end of one season and the beginning of another. The World Cup serves to heighten those feelings, but here we are on the eve of new season, that blissful period where our hopes, dreams and aspirations are as yet undashed.
The glorious “Transfer Window” (unless of course you are Southampton) enables teams to offload a dodgy left back or temperamental winger (should that be whinger) and land a top quality striker ‘Who is going to give us 30 goals a season’.
The problem is that it all comes down to money. “Show me the money” as Cuba Gooding Jnr memorably demands of Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire. How complicated can it be? The transfer window is a simple auction with the highest bidder winning the spoils. This is a refrain I hear all too often in the commercial world; it’s a commodity product/service and price is the only issue. But is it true?
There’s no doubt that the money side is critical but is it the only thing? Even in such a binary environment football has been amazingly inventive (not something often said) in generating trading variables and identifying differential value, whether that is by using the time variable creatively, sell-on clauses, buy-out clauses, appearance bonuses, performance bonuses, image rights - and so the list goes on. Some variables are more bizarre than others. Here are a few of my favourites
- A young premiership starlet found he was being introduced into matches at the unusual time of 71minutes. Why? Because his previous club had put a clause into his contract that saw them paid £10,000 every time he played 20mins or more for his new team.
- A famous premiership player who enjoyed his pies suffered the indignity of a “Weight Clause” in his contract that allowed him a tolerance of 10% against a target weight or he would be fined. He was fined 8 times in the first 6 months
- An extrovert chairman inserted a clause in his manager’s contract that allowed the chairman to change the team up to 45 minutes before kick-off.
- An ex Liverpool player had an Olympic ski-jumper for a father; you can guess what they ensured when signing him.
- A German goalkeeper joining a Dutch team had a clause inserted in his contract allowing him to leave if he suffered racist hostility. He left after 3 months.
- Another team were so worried about their player having booked a seat on a commercial space flight that they banned him from breaching the atmosphere during his 4yr contract.
- A Congolese midfielder apparently stipulated that he would only sign if it could be contractually arranged for his wife to take cooking lessons. Not sure how that one went down at home.
- A German striker stipulated a condition that a house would be built for him for every year of his contract. I hope he was specific about what he meant by a house, I hear rumours he was provided something made of Lego.
- One chairman insisted that a new signing, to show his commitment, must eat some sheep testicles. To his credit the player did, cooked with a little lemon and parsley.
- A German manager had a clause in his contract which stated that he could be sacked at any time if the club was less than 3 points above the relegation zone after the eighth day of the season (admirably specific). They weren’t and he was.
So the next time you feel blinkered by price take a leaf out of football managers, chairman & agents book; get creative and remember that the more variables a negotiator has the happier they are.
On a similar subject I was fascinated to read some of the details of Manchester United’s new shirt sponsorship deal with Adidas. Again a pretty uncomplicated deal on the face of it – Adidas paid a huge sum of money for their name to appear on the player’s shirts. However it seems that roomfuls of lawyers have spent months without sleep thrashing out the deal. Why is this? Because when the numbers get so big it is even more critical to get value for money and in particular de-risk the deal. If Manchester United doesn’t qualify for the Champion’s League for two successive seasons they will see their annual payments drop from £75m to £52.5m. However, this clause won’t apply until the beginning of the 2015-16 season, which is a nice use of the time variable. Manchester United has rather cutely balanced this clause with one that gets them a bonus of £4m if they win the Champions League, FA Cup or Premier League. This technique is known as Over and Under and has enabled both parties to balance out risk of under performance against the reward of over performance. Mind you I’m not sure it was necessary for Adidas to mitigate against United being relegated during the term of the contract.
Or have I just spent too long in Manchester.