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European Football Sports Law News 19 Feb 2014

Atletico Madrid fans

Fulham FC – 'step aside' Meulensteen

An unusual managerial shift has taken place at English Premier League club Fulham F.C.

By way of background, the club's manager was Martin Jol (appointed in June 2011). Rene Meulensteen was appointed to assist him in November 2013 as 'Head Coach'.

In December 2013, Jol was dismissed. Meulensteen was then asked ''to run first-team duties'' following Jol's dismissal; a role he has kept since 14 February 2014 when German Felix Magath was recruited over him into the managerial role. Magath took his first training session yesterday (Monday 17th). Meulensteen has now taken this to mean he has been ''released''; whilst the club insists he remains under contract. This has led to considerable legal uncertainty.

A simple understanding of employment law informs that any individual employed on a fixed-term contract is entitled to payment for the entire term of that contract even if their employer terminates prematurely (in the absence of a repudiatory breach being committed by the employee). One party to an employment contract is not entitled to vary the role and duties of the other without their consent.

The club's position is that Meulensteen has merely been ''relieved'' of his first team duties. However, Meulensteen will (having been employed on a fixed term contract to run until June 2015) be considering his entitlement to payment.

In the event that he now feels undermined and 'frozen out' at the club, this could force his resignation, prompting him to consider a case of constructive dismissal. This will be one to watch!

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World Cup Stadia

The ongoing saga over the completion of the stadia in Brazil for the World Cup has once again been in media over the past few days. It had been reported that Arena de Baixada in Curitiba was set to be withdrawn from the list of host stadia following ongoing construction issues. However, FIFA confirmed on Tuesday that the stadium will remain as one of the host venues.

The stadium is scheduled to hold four group matches including Spain v Australia and Algeria v Russia. Ultimately a major issue FIFA faced if deciding that the stadium was not going to be fit for use, was that many fans have booked tickets for matches to be held in Curitiba. In addition many of the fans will also have spent considerable sums on flight and accommodation bookings. If FIFA were forced to choose a new venue for these matches, not only would the fans be inconvenienced and possibly out of pocket to the tune of significant sums, but the teams themselves would have to re-arrange training, travel and accommodation plans.

£10m has been set aside by the local government to speed up the construction process on the stadium, with both the organising committee and FIFA keen to ensure that the embarrassment of having to move and re-arrange matches at such short notice is avoided. It will be interesting to see if this is indeed the final decision from FIFA, or whether this may be revisited as the World Cup finals become ever closer and the stadium remains unfinished.

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Madrid Derby Lighter

The Spanish Football Federation have fined Atletico Madrid £492 following an incident in their home Copa del Rey semi final second leg match against city rivals Real Madrid last midweek.

As Cristiano Ronaldo was leaving the pitch at half-time during the match, he was struck on the head by a cigarette lighter thrown by a home supporter. The level of the fine was a relatively low amount due to the Spanish Football Federation being of the view that it was an isolated incident. Indeed, the fine would have been even lower, had Atletico been able to identify the individual who threw the lighter.

The case does raise questions as to how the level of fines in such incidents is to be determined by football governing bodies. Is the level of fine to be determined according to the degree of injury suffered by the individual struck by objects thrown by the crowd (Ronaldo was not seriously injured in this situation) or is the punishment here reflective of what clubs can expect to receive in the event that one of their fans acts in an inappropriate manner? Whilst it may be hard to create a general rule, it does appear that the fine imposed here does not fit the crime committed.

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