CHESTER, UK. December 5th, 2023 – The Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland (the ‘CAS’) has conclusively found in favour of a footballer who was left unpaid and threatened with police harassment by his club. The internationally capped footballer was represented by Manleys Solicitors as he fought for the right to terminate his contract and recover damages. Following a complex appeal, the CAS has now confirmed that the player was entitled to walk away from his contract and has ordered the club to pay him very substantial compensation.
Manleys were instructed by a highly successful footballer whose goal scoring prowess had led him to play in many of Europe’s top leagues. His move in January 2021 was greeted with much fanfare, only for it to soon turn into a nightmare as, remarkably, he was repeatedly left unpaid. This from the most successful club in this country – a team which has regularly competed in European football including the Champions League. When the player challenged the club’s failure to pay, he was demoted to the U21s. Supported by one of the leading agents in Europe, the player stood his ground; only for matters to escalate. The player told CAS that Club officials entered the changing room, demanding that he sign a contractual variation in a language the player couldn’t understand. When he refused, the player was fined. Incredibly, matters came to a head when the player was threatened, with the club saying it would direct local police to stop him in the streets and he decided to flea the country. The Club denied all of the allegations.
The player fled the country worried about his safety and did so without warning the club, due to concerns that local authorities may prevent him from leaving. Having found safety, the player, with the assistance of his agent, instructed Manleys to assist him with terminating his playing contract.
After an initial win for the player at the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, the club appealed to the CAS. In doing so, the Club sought compensation from the player and his new club for the loss of a transfer fee.
Manleys instructed one of the UK’s leading sports barristers, Steven Flynn of Kings Chambers and 2 Temple Gardens, for the appeal following his notable successes before the CAS. Steven was assisted by rising star of the sports law world, Rosie Knight (Kings Chambers).
The issue taken by the club on appeal was whether the player had the right to leave the country and terminate his contract without warning. The club argued that an express term of the contract required 14-days’ notice to be given; during which the club could remedy the situation. Alternatively, it argued that Regulation 14bis of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (‘FIFA RSTP’) requires 15-days’ notice where termination related to non-payment of wages. The club claimed that it was entitled to compensation for the loss of the player’s registration. The player’s new club was added to the CAS proceedings, with the former club claiming that both the player and the new club were jointly liable.
Relying on a complex combination of Swiss law (as applied at the CAS), the club’s national law, and previous decisions of the CAS, the player was successfully able to argue that he enjoyed a right to terminate for just cause. Whilst Swiss law emphasises the importance of forewarning an employer before resigning, this was held by the CAS to not be an absolute criteria when considering a just cause termination. In any event, the CAS determined that any notice requirement was satisfied by the player drawing the club’s attention to the breach of the playing contract. The CAS said that the player had done so by raising the non-payment of his wages, and that the club’s argument that this was insufficient was unsubstantial and deceptive. The CAS also rejected the club’s argument that express terms of the playing contract entitled it to assign the player to the U21 team. The player had been signed as a first team player and there was no valid reason for the reassignment. The club’s conduct as a whole, placed the player in a situation where he could no longer rely on the continuation of the contractual relationship with the club; therefore, he had just cause to terminate the playing contract.
In making the substantial Award in favour of the player, the CAS ordered the club to pay the outstanding salary to the date of termination, and compensate him for his reduced earnings with his new club. The CAS also ordered the club to pay three months’ salary as additional compensation because the termination was related to non-payment of salary. CAS exercised its discretion to make a costs order against the Club.
Steven Flynn, lead counsel before the CAS observed that, ‘This case was complicated by the different national laws and regulatory regimes engaged. The club sought to exploit apparent inconsistencies between the regimes to avoid responsibility for its actions. Thankfully we, as a team, were able to address the multi-jurisdictional issues and ensure that justice was done for player.’
Mark Manley, Managing Director at Manleys said: ‘I’m delighted for the player and his agent. Our team couldn’t believe what we were hearing when the player recounted his ordeal. He had been excited to join the most successful club in this country but it quickly turned into a nightmare. His decision to flea the country was more akin to a James Bond’ movie than a footballing issue! The player was one of the most impressive witnesses I have seen in Court. His agent, Roberto De Fanti, was an incredible support to the player throughout this ordeal, as was his new club. I’d like to thank them, my colleagues at Manleys, and Steven Flynn and Rosie Knight of Kings’ Chambers for their skills, expertise, tenacity and bringing a very successful conclusion to this long-running saga. Our website boasts that “we are in the results business” – I’m very pleased for this client that he’s ended up a fantastic and emphatic result.”