Monday, January 17, 2022

Football’s ‘secret weapon’ – release clauses explained after Chris Wood’s £25m move to Newcastle

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It is estimated that between 30 and 40 footballers in England’s top two leagues have release clauses in their contracts, which are used to their advantage by both clubs and players

When it comes to transfer release clauses, everyone in football knows the deal. You just can’t really acknowledge it.

Sometimes the hardest part is keeping up appearances.

“Recently there was a deal and a club came to us to inquire about a player’s value,” says a recruitment source I.

“He was a very good player who had a clear vision of his career progression – he had interest from above but wanted to move up a level before moving on to the next. And that meant he was someone we could only have signed if we had agreed to put a release clause in the contract.

“When the buyers came to us a few years later, it was pretty obvious that they knew about the release clause. It saved us time just saying, “You know the price.” And the deal was closed much faster.”

In a transfer window often strained by the dual priorities of selling clubs to maximize value and buying clubs to secure bargains, recruitment sources believe the release clause is the dealmakers’ ‘secret weapon’ . And they predict that there are still a few big transfers to be pushed ahead of the deadline.

Newcastle, the most aggressive players of the transfer window so far, appear to be actively targeting players with set release clauses due to the high prices they have been offered. And a recruiting source that was spoken to I said some clubs in Europe are touting their players’ release clauses in order to initiate quick deals to ease their tight financial situation.

The release clause is – in this case – a good PR move for the selling club. “They can turn to their fans and say, ‘We did everything we could,'” a source explained.

There is no definitive list of players with them in their contracts, but it is estimated that between 30 and 40 players in the top two divisions are on release clauses.

Some have been inserted by clubs to protect market value while others are insisted on by the player, but the savviest negotiators leave them intentionally vague, giving clubs some leeway.

“The fee could be £40million but you have leeway to negotiate the payment schedule. You can turn down an offer of £40m if it’s four payments of £10m and you want it all up front,” explains a source.

The really obscure part of release clauses is how they are formed. Football is a small world so they need to get out but they are usually signed off with requests to keep them confidential.

Of course, that rarely happens. But agents can’t be seen putting them openly on the open market for fear of breaking the terms of a contract.

Sometimes clubs use release clauses to down a player’s negotiating hand in salary negotiations – and it backfires.

Demba Ba recalls using clauses to further his career in a quid pro quo deal with clubs worried about a historic knee injury.

“I didn’t have a shaky knee. It was just the press saying that, but it stuck with me,” he said.

“When I first came to England to sign for West Ham they said if my knee breaks I’m automatically out of contract. I said, ‘Okay, but if you do this on your side, can I do something on my side?’ My stipulation was that if the club goes under, I can leave for free.

“I went to Newcastle and wanted to play there. But it wasn’t a big contract. So if you’re spending about half my salary on pay-as-you-play, I’ll ask for a release clause.

“They opted for the release clause at £7million, not me. Then this is the offer they got for me.”

In Wood’s case, the release clause was inserted without him or Burnley ever believing that a club like Newcastle would come knocking.

“It’s a pretty normal thing,” he said on Thursday. “Some people have them, some don’t.

“I don’t think anyone thought this would ever be triggered, but that’s the way of the world. And how football can sometimes be.”

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