Can football players unilaterally break their existing contracts?

Player power in football

Player power in football is an issue which is consistently discussed when talking about top level football – one of the most lucrative industries in the modern world. Players are currently paid vast sums of money on a weekly basis for the contracts which will earn them millions per year.

Following the Bosman ruling, which enabled out of contract football players to move to clubs within the EU without the requirement of a transfer fee, we have seen a significant increase in player power. For example, players will often refuse to sign a new contract with their existing club so they can become out of contract and thus move for free. If the club the player moves to is not required to pay a transfer fee, they will be willing to provide that player with huge amounts of money both as a signing-on fee and in wages.

FIFA transfer rules

In the wake of the Bosman ruling, FIFA updated its transfer rules. The FIFA transfer rules now allow the unilateral termination of the contract by the player, but only in certain conditions.

Article 13 states that a contract between a professional and a club may only be terminated upon expiry of the term of the contract or by mutual agreement.

However, under Article 14, a contract may be terminated by either party without consequences of any kind (either payment of compensation or imposition of sporting sanctions) where there is ‘just cause’. Just cause is not defined but would cover, for example, where a player has not been paid for months.

Article 15, allows an ‘established professional’ to terminate his contract on the grounds 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. If a sporting just cause is found, sporting sanctions (see below) won’t be imposed, though compensation may be payable. A player can only terminate his contract on this basis in the 15 days following the last official match of the season of the club with which he is registered.

Article 16 states that a contract cannot be unilaterally terminated during the course of a season.

Article 17: compensation

If a contract is terminated without just cause, the person in breach will have to pay compensation. Generally, when calculating the level of compensation, the law of the country concerned and the specific city of sport will be considered. Other criteria which will be taken into account will be the player’s pay and benefits due under the existing contract and/or the new contract, the time remaining on the existing contract up to a maximum of five years, the fees and expenses paid or incurred by the former club and whether the contractual breach falls within a ‘protected period’.

Unlock this article now!


For more information on:

  • Article 17: sporting sanctions
  • Article 17: clubs and officials