Agreements Legal Articles The Sport Axis

The Antoine Griezmann Saga: A Cameo

What is it about the saga?

Atletico Madrid CF and FC Barcelona are top flight clubs in the Spanish La Liga, a first-tier football league in the heart of Europe. Atletico Madrid secured the services of French Forward, Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad in 2014 and entered into a professional contract with the prolific forward.

In the course of Griezmann’s contract at Atletico Madrid, precisely last summer, the world cup winner extended his contract until 2023 occasioning the insertion of a buy-out clause of £179m (two hundred million Euros [€200m]). (A Buy-Out Clause is a term in a professional football contract that permits a termination of the professional contract of a player and the consequent transfer of the player to another football club upon fulfillment, by the transferee club, of certain conditions clearly stipulated in the contract.) By the terms of the professional contract, the buy-out clause was set to drop to £108m (€120m) on July 1, 2019.

On the 12th day of July 2019, Barcelona signed Griezmann from Atletico Madrid having activated the transfer by the deposit of the buy-out clause. Griezmann has since been unveiled behind closed doors at the Camp Nou (Barcelona’s home ground).

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid released an official statement stating that the money paid by Barcelona was short of the appropriate amount of £179m (€200m). According to an official statement on the club’s website “Atletico Madrid consider that the deposited amount is insufficient to cover his buyout clause since it is obvious the agreement between the player and Barcelona was closed before the clause was reduced from €200m to €120m”. Atletico’s contention is that Griezmann had committed to Barcelona and had agreed to move to the Camp Nou before the 1st of July 2019 when his release (buy-out) clause shrunk to £108m (€120m).

In essence, Atletico Madrid believes that the contract between it and Griezmann had been breached/terminated before the end of the last La Liga campaign (season) in May due to certain events, acts and demonstrations carried out by Griezmann. Atletico Madrid has resolved to explore lawful channels in defence of its legitimate rights and entitlements.

Notably, this is only the second time Atletico Madrid would consider filing an official complaint against Barcelona on the subject matter of Antoine Griezmann. In 2017, Atletico Madrid had filed a complaint before FIFA over allegations that Barcelona are attempting to tap up Antoine Griezmann.

What is Tapping Up?

In simple terms, Tapping Up is an attempt by one football team to persuade a player committed to an existing contract with another football team to transfer to the former without the knowledge and/or permission of the player’s current team or without other lawful justification.

For instance, assuming it is proved that Barcelona entered into negotiations with Griezmann in March 2019 without the knowledge and/or consent of Atletico Madrid, then Barcelona could be said to be making attempts to tap up Griezmann.

Tapping Up is against several rules and regulations of various football bodies and associations. For instance, Article 18.3 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (FIFA Regulations), which contain relevant rules governing transfers, provides:

“A club intending to conclude a contract with a professional must inform the player’s current club in writing before entering into negotiations with him. A professional shall only be free to conclude a contract with another club if his contract with his present club has expired or is due to expire within six months. Any breach of this provision shall be subject to appropriate sanctions.”

Hence, if Atletico Madrid can sufficiently establish the fact that FC Barcelona entered into negotiations with Antoine Griezmann during the subsistence of his contract with the former, the latter might be held liable for breach of the FIFA Regulations on the Transfer of Players.

What steps has Atletico Madrid taken so far?

By official records as at the time of this publication, Atletico Madrid is still considering appropriate legal steps to take with respect to the situation. No complaint has been filed as of this date.

What are the chances of success or otherwise of Atletico Madrid?

At the time of this cameo, we do not have any access whatsoever to the professional contract documents between Atletico Madrid and Antoine Griezmann. We are of the opinion that the laws aS. Abdullone cannot guarantee an informed prediction of “what the Court would do and nothing more pretentious”.

Furthermore, though no complaint has been filed so far, we foresee that at least, one would be filed in the coming weeks. We therefore do not desire in the slightest, any violation of the principle of Sub Judice. Sub Judice refers to a situation under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion in other fora.

Without prejudice to the foregoing, it is apposite to state the legal remedies available to the Club (Atletico Madrid) if after considering the terms of the professional contract in its entirety, there is sufficient evidence to prove that the French forward had, by certain acts or omission, breached any of the terms and conditions of the contract.

Although Article 13 of the FIFA Regulations provides that a contract between a professional footballer and a football club may only be terminated upon expiry of the term of the contract or by mutual agreement, Article 14 goes ahead by stipulating that a contract may be terminated unilaterally without consequences of any kind (either payment of compensation or imposition of sporting sanctions) where there is ‘just cause’. “Just Cause” is not clearly defined in the FIFA Regulations but would cover, for example, a situation where a player has not been paid for several months as defined in his contract.

Article 15 of the FIFA Regulations further allows an ‘established professional’ to terminate his contract on the ground of ‘sporting just cause’ if he has appeared in fewer than 10% of the official matches in which his club has been involved during the season. A player can only terminate his contract on this ground in the 15 days following the last official match of the season of the club with which he is registered. Further, Article 17 provides that if a contract is terminated without just cause, the person in breach will be liable to pay compensation.

What would amount to an “established professional” is not clearly defined in the FIFA Regulations and could pose a serious challenge. A Commentary on the Regulations explains that an established player is one who has terminated and completed his training period; a player whose level of footballing skill is at least equal to or even superior to those of his team mates who appear regularly.

Hence, it is submitted that Griezmann will be required to pay a specified sum as compensation to Atletico Madrid if he is found to have breached the terms of the contract or unlawfully terminated the contract.

As for Barcelona, if it can be established that the club induced a breach of contract during the protected period – the period of the subsistence of the contract – (if there was indeed a breach), the club will also have to pay compensation and have sporting sanctions imposed {Article 17}. Unfortunately for Barcelona and/or fortunately for Atletico Madrid, even if it is established that Barcelona did not induce any breach (where a breach is alleged), Barcelona will still not be absolved of sanctions under Article 17 of the FIFA Regulations. This is because by Article 17:

“If a club signs a player who has terminated his contract without just cause, there will be a presumption that the club has induced the player to commit a breach.”

Consequently, the club (Barcelona) will be banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for two registration periods if the player’s (Griezmann’s) breach of contract can be established before the appropriate judicial forum.

Pictures Source :

All pictures of Antonio Griezmann and Barcelona were sourced from the official Barcelona website at http://www.fcbarcelona.com

FIFA picture was sourced from the official website of FIFA at http://www.fifa.com

Atlético de Madrid’s official 2018/2019 team photo was sourced from the official website of Athletico Madrid at https://en.atleticodemadrid.com/noticias/atletico-de-madrid-s-official-2018-2019-team-photo

Article Authors:

Olukolade EhinmosanOlukolade Ehinmosan is an Associate Attorney at the Law Firm of SPA AJIBADE & CO. His competencies include Dispute Resolution (litigation and out-of-court), Sports Law, Contracts and Transaction Advisory, Corporate and Capital Markets, Real Estates, Energy and Taxation.

Ayodeji S. AbdulAyodeji S Abdul is a Partner at Law Axis 360 and an Associate at P.A.G.E Law Office in Lagos. He has special interest in Taxation, Corporate Governance and Intellectual Property.

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