Pre-Contracts in football

Published 16 June 2014 By: Matthew Chantler

Football in Mud
As clubs continue to spend millions of pounds on their training facilities and training to develop their young players and to attract the best young talent, it is common practice for clubs to ask young players to enter into pre-contractual agreements.
Often, this practice involves young players, who are otherwise unable to lawfully enter into a contract (normally the scholarship agreement) due to their age and the applicable football regulations. For example, the Rules of the FA state that a player under 17 years of age may not enter into a contract of employment except under a scholarship and a player under 18 years of age may not enter into a contract of employment (see C1 of the Rules of the FA1 and Regulation 60 of the Regulations of the Football League Limited2). The practice may also be used by clubs to acquire players from abroad which may bring into effect Article19 of the FIFA Regulations; Article 19 provides that international transfers of players are only permitted if the players is over the age of 18. However, are such pre-contractual agreements enforceable?
 
There are many examples of these agreements – be it by way of a letter for players to sign, or undated contracts, or clubs producing a “Deed of Undertaking” – however they all have the same goal; to tie a player into a scholarship and/or Premier League contract before the player is lawfully able to actually sign the contract. 
 
Pre-contractual agreements typically contain:
  • the basic terms of the student arrangement, scholarship contract and/or Premier League contract;
  • provide that the Premier League contract is conditional upon a trigger that can be activated by the club (for example, serving notice on the player);
  • the player’s remuneration details for entering into the contract/deed; and
  • representations and warranties by the player (and often parents or the agent too) that typically include the acceptance of the scholarship agreement when called upon, entering into the scholarship agreement and contract, and the parent and/or agent procuring the player to sign the same, and an obligation to do such other acts or things as to ensure the registration of the contracts and possibly an obligation not to solicit or accept other offers of employment. 
The key question is whether the pre-contractual agreement is legally binding? Sometimes, the player may want to enforce it (if, for example, they have lost form or have become injured and the club won’t offer the actual contract); whereas, sometimes, the player may want a way out (usually when they’ve received a better offer elsewhere).

 

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Matthew Chantler

Matthew Chantler

Matthew, a solicitor at Mills & Reeve LLP, specialises in Sports Law and is an FA and RFL Registered Lawyer. He advises players' associations including Professional Players Federation, Professional Footballers' Association, PFA Scotland, Rugby Players Association, 1eagu3 and their members, a number of professional football clubs, players and agents on regulatory and legal matters. 

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