Is it illegal for a football club to approach a player directly who is under contract with another football club?

The contracting of football players

Currently under the FIFA Regulations regarding transfers an individual player will be owned by the specific club who holds the registration of that player. All players who play for specific clubs in the Football Association Premier in England will be registered with that particular club and will only be able to move to another club following the payment of a transfer fee.

Player power

Following various decisions concerning the movement of footballers from club to club in certain circumstances – most notably the decision in the Bosman case and the decisions regarding Article 17 of the FIFA Transfer Regulations – the power of players in enabling a move to be engineered to another football club is continually on the rise.

Furthermore the use of football agents in negotiating better deals for the football players which they represent has served to increase the power of football players.

The tapping up of players

An issue which has currently been experienced in English football over the last five years or so has been the issue of rival clubs tapping up football players who are under contract with another club.

Why does this occur?

Often footballers may wish to move away from the club which they currently play for in order to play for a better club and in most cases to earn themselves more money. Often a rival club will wish to attain their services and instead of going through the club which owns that player they will speak directly to the player.

Is this allowed to be done?

Currently under both the transfer rules established by FIFA and the Football Association followed by the clubs playing in England if another club wants to procure the services of a player that is registered with another club they must speak directly with that club and not to the player or his agent. The individual player and the agent who represents him will only be brought in for discussions with the potential purchasing club once the two clubs have agreed on a fee.

Why would a club wish to contact the player directly rather than the club?

Often a club wishing to get the services of a player from another club will contact the player directly as they may want a guarantee from that player that if a number of clubs enter a bidding war for that player he will sign with that particular club. Also if the club wishing to sign the player feels that his current club would be unwilling to sell they may wish to contact the player to unsettle him at his current club in such a way that he demands a transfer by handing in a transfer request. If a player shown his unhappiness through his attitude in this manner the club owning him may be more willing to sell.

What is the football agent’s role in all of this?

The football agent who represents the player involved is likely to have a big involvement in setting up a meeting between the representatives of a club and his player. The agent will be the first port of call for the club wishing to gain the services of the player and often it is the agent which makes the first contact with potential clubs touting the services of the player that he represents.

Why is it in the interests of the agent to do this?

It is in the interests of the football agent to do this as often the way in which agents are paid is that they are provided with 10% of any money made involving the player. This means that they are likely to get a percentage of the transfer fee paid for the player which they represent and also a percentage of any signing on fee the player will be paid by his new club.

Is it therefore illegal for agents to set up these kinds of meetings?

Article 14(c)of the FIFA Players’ Agents Regulations states that a licensed player’s agent must never approach a player who is under approach a player who is under contract with a club with the aim of persuading him to terminate his contract prematurely or to flout the rights and duties stipulated in that contract.

This clearly shows that an agent who sets up meetings in this manner will clearly be in breach of the regulations which he must adhere to in his role as a football agent.

If it is clearly in breach of the rules governing football to do this, does it still happen?

Unfortunately this is a common problem especially associated with clubs playing in England that players will have meetings with other clubs in this manner. Often this will happen when a player is away from his club on international duty or will happen in a clandestine fashion in restaurants or other such places.

What will happen if a player is caught meeting with another club in this fashion?

If this is found to have happened there are likely to be punishments put in place on the following people involved in the meeting:

  • The club tapping up the player

  • The manager of the club tapping up the player

  • The player

  • The agent of the player

What are the likely sanctions to be imposed on the respective parties?

Following a high profile case in 2005 the sanctions imposed were the following:

  • A fine and a suspended three point sentence for the club

  • A fine for the manager

  •  A fine for the player

  • A fine and a revocation of the licence for the agent

Could stopping football players talking to other clubs in this manner constitute a restraint of trade?

Many may feel that the ruling is disproportionately restrictive on the activity of agents and out of line with the notion of players seeking alternative employment and clubs seeking new employees.

However, when the above mentioned high profile case reached the High Court it was held that tapping up did not constitute an unreasonable restraint of trade.