By Dan Chapman
With the implementation of the new Youth Development Rules and EPPP now well underway, and the latest Category status of Football Academies being announced on a regular basis, we are starting to see what impact and issues are arising.
It is surely only a matter of time, for example, until the appeals process as to the Category status an Academy has been allocated will be tested; at Full Contact we have already advised one Club as to their appeal prospects.
One area which had perhaps not been previously considered was the extent to which a young player (and thus his parent/guardian) might have any recourse in circumstances where the Academy he is contracted to are – for whatever reason – suddenly in a lower Category than he was expecting. We are currently advising a number of parents on such a matter, and so it seems appropriate to update readers (particularly parents) on the issues.
The much publicised announcement by Watford’s owners recently (that they would now be seeking only a Category 3 status, having previously indicating that they were aspiring to Category 1 but would attain at least Category 2) is one example where parents might be concerned; but what of parents at Newcastle (who might have chosen for their son to play there as opposed to, say, Middlesborough or Sunderland who were both successful in obtaining Category 1 whereas Newcastle were not)? There are countless examples already, with a lot more to come, whereby one could imagine a parent/player might be concerned. Academies will be downgraded, have a change in ownership, lose key personnel, fail future audits; the potential for ‘change’ is considerable.
So the question arises: can the parent/player move their son out of the Academy he is at and go elsewhere? The parent and player will be bound by a contract with the Club, which is in standard form, and the provisions for termination certainly do not expressly permit the contract to be terminated simply because the Academy has been awarded a Category status lower than which it envisaged or had previously held. On the face of it, therefore, the parent/player is probably in a situation where they can do little but try and persuade their Club to release them by mutual consent, or find a Club who is willing to pay the fixed compensation which the EPPP provides where a youth player transfers. Clubs will (and in some cases with absolute merit) contend that the parent/player is worrying unnecessarily, and that the Category status of their Academy will not detrimentally impact upon the young player’s future: one would imagine in many cases they will not be prepared to consent to a release.
However, it strikes us that a wise parent/player might – when entering into a contract with a Club in the future – protect themselves. If the player – for example – had a choice of Category 1 Academies to join, it is perfectly understandable that he might be aggrieved if the Club he joined then became (for whatever reason) a Category 3 Academy a few weeks later. Therefore, there is no legal reason why a parent/player could not incorporate a term in to the contract which expressly provides them with the right to terminate in the event that the Category status is lowered (meaning he could join another Club without compensation).
Another possibility is that the regulatory bodies will intervene, and will introduce an express term in to the youth player’s contract which allows the player to terminate where there is a change in Category status (from the status held at the time the contract was entered into). We suspect this is unlikely at least for the forseeable future, in which case parents/players going forwards would be wise to consider whether they ought to incorporate a term in to the contract they are about to sign.
For advice on any issues relating to EPPP or player contracts, including how to incorporate the term this article discusses, please contact Dan Chapman.« An Ode to Formula One False Dawns and Mixed Emotions – opening day of the football season 2012 »
The spearhead and Senior Partner of Full Contact, Dan is an experienced solicitor and advocate, with a specialist background in employment law and sports.
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