What do Malaga CF’s Isco and FC Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara have in common? They’re newly crowned U21 European Champions with Spain, two of the most promising midfielders in the world, and are linked with a big-money transfer this summer. Among the suitors for these prodigiously talented players are such illustrious clubs as Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid. Clubs that can offer any player generous wages, the promise of challenges, and more importantly, can arguably meet the selling club’s evaluation of their prized assets. But business transactions are seldom straightforward, even more so in sports, and particularly in football.
The single biggest asset(s) of any football club are the player(s). One might argue that the employees of any given company also represent the most valuable ‘commodity’ they have, but then again, mass layoffs have unfortunately become commonplace, especially in the current economic climate. Negotiations between two clubs can be long and extensive, sometimes to no avail because neither party will budge on their respective evaluation. It’s in the interest of the selling club to exert the maximum profits, whereas the buying club intends to keep the fee as low as possible.
Spain offers an interesting twist in that regard. Spanish clubs are required to insert release-clauses into its player’s contracts. More often than not does the release clause with its sky-high evaluations function as a deterrent to ward off potential suitors. Well, that is unless a club is willing to match the valuation of the release clause in the contract.
Release clauses are meant as a layer of protection, as a bargaining tool for the selling club. But if the release clause is within the budget of a suitor it can enable the interested party to basically execute a hostile takeover of sorts. A player can, and will be acquired against the wishes of the club that owns the registration of the athlete – provided he is interested in a switch.
For example, normally, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid do not acquire players from one another – not if it can be avoided. The rivalry between these two clubs eclipses any financial benefit a transfer may present. Both teams have designs on being the best team in Spain and in Europe. Thus, selling a valuable player to rival conflicts with their aspirations – at any price. But it happens on occasion.
Nobody would’ve expected Real Madrid (or any club for that matter) to activate Luis Figo’s €60 million release clause back in 2000. However, the Merengues did and signed Barcelona’s best player in the process. Of course that only served to increase the hostilities between the two clubs but it paid off for the Madrid outfit. The Portuguese helped Real Madrid win 2 La Liga titles and a Champions League trophy.
It’s not coincidence that FC Barcelona in particular has inserted unbelievably high release clauses into its player’s contracts. Another Figo scenario must be avoided under any circumstances. That’s one of the reasons why Lionel Messi has had multiple contract renegotiations at the start of his career with the Blaugrana a) to reward him for his performance and b) to raise his release clause. At present Messi’s release clause is set at €250 million.
But while the Blaugrana wisely chose to increase the salary and release clause in Messi’s case, the Catalan outfit left themselves in an unfavorable (negotiation) position with Thiago. The much coveted youngster’s release clause is normally set at €90 million, however, due to some additional clauses the La Masia graduate is available for as little as €18 million – though for a limited time only.
For instance, his U21 teammate Isco’s release clause is worth €36 million, exactly double the value of Thiago’s buyout clause.
Is Isco really worth twice as much as Thiago, or is the latter only half as good?
In both cases the answer is a firm no.
Is Isco really worth an outlay of €36 million?
Probably not. But the market dictates the price. The Malaga player is desired amongst Europe’s elite, hence the final fee for his transfer should approach the release clause inserted in his contract, if not meeting it outright.
Malaga will have a hard time finding a replacement but the fee should ease his departure. Furthermore, Malaga could use the funds to address the precautious financial situation they find themselves in.
However, if Barcelona were to sell Thiago at a reduced price –unwillingly, albeit perfectly legal – it would be one of the worst business transactions ever conducted in professional football. €18 million is still a respectable figure but a lot less than what the youngster would’ve fetched under normal conditions. He, along with Isco, was the outstanding player of the U21 European Championship and has been in Barcelona’s first team since the 2010-11 campaign. Thiago is a player whose talent and potential has excited Europe’s leading clubs for the longest.
His reduced release clause stems from an item in his contract that states he must play at least 60 percent of all possible games. One might be inclined to believe that this target was more than just achievable. After all, Barcelona had already accumulated a 15 point advantage in December of 2012, right?
Evidently not. It serves to highlight a massive blunder on administrative and technical level. Amazingly, or rather shockingly, Jordi Roura, Tito Vilanoa’s assistant manager, claimed that it is not part of their job description to be aware of the players contracts.
“We decide who plays for sporting reasons. It´s not our job to bear in mind the players’ contracts.” (Source: Marca)
It raises the question, if its not the job of the technical staff to know these things, whose is it?
Who exactly should and must know these things?
In all likelihood, and based on his actual job title, it is Andoni Zubizaretta, FC Barcelona’s director of football. He is supposed to know everything related to the football side of things, at least he should. Assuming he did, and implying he did tell Tito Vilanova about Thiago’s clause, the team selection still lies with the manager.
A manager is supposed to actually ‘manage’ the first team, which covers a wide array of responsibilities. Chief among them – management. Granted, the primary aspect of a football manager is being a tactician but it is not exclusively limited to it.
The fact that Thiago can leave for as little as €18 million (€22 million if tax is included) is a testimony to Tito Vilanova lacking a profound understanding of management, and the failure of Barcelona’s administration to prevent such a scenario from unfolding in the first place.
Judging by the mishandling of Thiago’s contractual situation Barcelona’s management (both on administrative and technical level) is anything but world-class.
If Thiago leaves Barcelona only have themselves to blame.
Food for thought, Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the most demanding manager in football history, trusted then 20-year old youngster, David De Gea, to become Manchester United’s first choice goalkeeper, why didn’t Vilanova put just a little faith in Thiago? Mind you, Ferguson played to win, and Manchester United’s goalkeeping position has always been one of its most important.