Can a professional footballer decide to play for free?

High profile salaries currently paid to footballers

Recently there has been much written concerning the vast salaries paid to professional footballers and the various bonuses which they receive from their clubs and also money from commercial deals.

Some of the professional footballers currently plying their trade in the Football Association Premier League are paid three times more than the British Prime Minister – this is a startling statistic when you put it into context.

Salary Cap

Many feel that the amount paid to footballers should be capped in the style of certain American and Australian sports to enable the competiveness of the league but also to keep much of the money generated by the sport within the sport rather than in the pockets of the players.

Situation where a football has decided to pay for free

Considering the current status of the game it is somewhat surprising that a footballer has agreed to play for an entire season for his club without receiving any form of payment.

Why has this situation come about?

The player of whom this situation concerns moved to his club in Italy at the beginning of the 2009/10 football season just experienced, however, within a couple of games for his new club he suffered an injury which was to rule him out for the entirety of the season.

The individual player initially signed a contract which ran from 2009 until June 2012, however, he has now signed a contract extension for another year ensuring his contract will run until 2013. This contract extension was done at the request of the player with the player deciding to insert the condition that he will receive no remuneration for this final year.

Is it legal to do this?

When footballers sign contracts with clubs for their playing services they will be required to sign a standard contract with applies to that league, for example players playing in England in the FA Premier League will be required to sign a standard FA Premier League contract. The same conditions will apply for players playing in Italy as this player does.

Within the standard contract there will be certain clauses and pay will of course come into it but there is no standard clauses on how much a player is paid. If a player opts to play for free it is clearly up to that player to make the decision.

Is it unfair of the club to accept this proposal from the player?

Some may feel that it is unfair of the club to accept this proposal from the player as if he is providing his services to them then he should be paid as is the case with all the players. However, this is done as a gesture of goodwill on the behalf of the player to repay the club for the faith that they have shown in him during his time when he was unable to play.

Would this ever happen in any other employment context?

It is extremely unlikely that this would ever happen in any other employment context as it is only made possible by the fact that the player earns high amounts that he effectively has the ability to work for free for a year.

Companies accepting individuals working free instead or being made redundant is clearly an untenable position and would not be able to be applied to any other form of industry.

Will this case set a precedent in the footballing world?

It is extremely unlikely that this case will set a precedent in the footballing world as it is simply the choice of the player. It would be illegal under Employment law for a club to try and impose this condition on a player who has been injured and so as in the current case if it were to happen it would solely be the decision of the player.

It would be very unlikely for other players who have suffered injury to follow suit and so this case will prove the exception rather than the rule.

Could a club refuse to pay a player who is injured or suspended for a long period of time?

This is a question which has been posed previously when a high profile footballer was given an extended ban for missing a drugs test. The player who was just recently signed for a big money deal was therefore unable to play but was still being paid vast sums for the club when he was unable to perform due to his own fault.

However, if the club were to refuse to pay him at all it would have constituted a breach by the club of the terms of the contract signed by the player when he first arrived meaning that the contract would become void. This would therefore enable the player to move to another club for free under the Bosman ruling enabling him to play for that club once his ban has finished causing the original club to lose out on huge amounts of money.