Can Football Contracts Be Changed Or Varied Mid-Term? If So, What Can Players Do About It?
In 2020, Barcelona and Frenkie De Jong agreed a contract renewal which included an additional two-year contract extension that would keep the Barcelona player at the Nou Camp until 2026. De Jong (as did many at the club) agreed to take a pay cut during the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 pandemic-affected seasons and also deferred part of his salary. The deferred salary was due to be paid over the last four years of his contract (2022-2026).
In the summer of 2022, Barcelona informed the player that they were seeking to annul his renewed contract on the grounds that they had found evidence of criminality on the part of the parties who authorised the deal.1 This was despite Barcelona’s previous board that authorised the contract taking the view that everything was legally compliant. Barcelona suggested that the parties should revoke the terms of the two-year extension and proceed under the terms of the original contract that was signed in 2019. This would essentially “write off” the amount owed to the player in deferred wages. De Jong naturally opposed such a change.
This dispute gives rise to some interesting legal questions relating to if and how employment contracts can be amended or varied. This article examines the matter from a UK law perspective, with a particular focus on:
how clubs could try to change a player’s employment contract mid-term; and
what can players do to protect themselves.
While this article primarily uses football as its example, most points will apply equally to any sports-related employment contract.
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Jonathan is a Partner at TLT. He is an experienced litigator who has worked exclusively in employment law since qualification.
He is dual qualified in Scotland and England and Wales and is recognised as an accredited specialist in employment law by the Law Society of Scotland. Jonathan has significant corporate experience having qualified as a Chartered Secretary and worked in house for FTSE 100 companies. He has also been selected as an arbitrator by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in its general and football arbitrator lists.
Sam Foley is a trainee solicitor in the Data, Privacy and Cybersecurity team at regional firm, TLT Solicitors. Outside of the office, Sam is a keen footballer and boxer. Sam has a strong academic and practical interest in Sports rights, Technology & Data in Sports and Intellectual Property and Image Rights in Sports.