If Frenkie de Jong’s long and drawn-out transfer saga wasn’t messy enough already, there’s a way to make it that much messier. “De Jong should consider legal action against Barcelona and all players should stand behind him,” Gary Neville tweeted last week. “A club that spends fortunes on new players while not paying full money to those they have under contract is immoral and a breach. @FIFPRO should be done with bullying like this and stop it.”
Predictably, Neville’s tweet did not go down well with Barcelona supporters – some even going so far as to pretend his infamous tenure as Valencia manager was about to expire even worse than it actually was – but you don’t have to be a former Manchester United right-back to sympathize with the sentiment behind it. For a financially strapped club like Barça, kicking a player out so he can fund a summer of extravagant spending is one thing. To do so while refusing to pay him the wages owed to him is quite another.
earlier this month, brand revealed that De Jong agreed to defer some 17 million euros in wages on extending his contract during the pandemic. To help Barcelona deal with the financial impact of Covid-19, the Netherlands international signed a two-year extension until 2026, increasing his base salary from €14m a year to €3m for 2020-21 and €9m last season reduced. This left €16m deferred to be spread over the remaining four years of his contract, plus €1m to be paid last year.
On top of these deferred wages, Barcelona would still be required to pay four more years of their base salary and €15.6m in loyalty bonuses. In total, the package amounts to 88.6 million euros, but even that does not include visual and performance-related add-ons, which could bring the total into the nine-figure range. In this context, it’s not difficult to understand why a club in Barça’s precarious financial situation would be keen to walk away from De Jong’s contract and concede a player who still has significant resale value.
United have reached a €85m agreement with Barcelona for De Jong, with a guaranteed fee of €75m up front and a further potential €10m in surcharges. While personal terms are yet to be agreed, an agreement on the €17m in deferred wages must also be reached between De Jong and Barcelona. Barcelona made an initial offer to try and resolve the matter, as reported by The Independent last week, but that was still over €10m less than what De Jong owes. Unsurprisingly, it was rejected.
Here is de Jong’s likely move to United, as he has been doing for several weeks. And if something useful emerges from that long, exhaustive history and impasse between a player and his club, it might shed some light on the increasing frequency of such standoffs. De Jong’s predicament is just the most prominent example of a rise in wage disputes in world football and what some players call ‘casino economics’ – where clubs offer lucrative deals only to try and walk away from commitments when things go wrong not develop as well as expected.
Labor disputes over deferred and unpaid wages are on the rise. In 2020-21, the most recent season for which publicly available data is available, Fifa’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) received a record number of applications, exceeding a thousand for the first time. The total of 1,187 was a quarter higher than last season, with the vast majority of complaints being made by players versus clubs rather than the other way around, and this did not include cases of a player playing in his home country. Research shows that the Chamber rules in favor of the player in more than 80 percent of labor cases heard by FIFA’s DRC.
The rise in disputes in recent years is no doubt linked to the financial impact of the pandemic, with even several relatively well-heeled Premier League clubs agreeing wage deferrals with their players and staff. But while these stays were negotiated collectively and negotiated between players, clubs and players’ unions, much else in world football has not been the case. Some in football believe the pandemic has been a good excuse for clubs to try to sidestep contract terms. The dispute boom would support this view.
A search Fifa’s public archive of DRC decisions shows that the vast majority tend to emerge from lower profile league systems. A handful of recent trouble clubs in Israel, Luxembourg, Libya and Nigeria make an appearance, as do several Portuguese clubs. Turkish clubs have earned a reputation as serial offenders. And while the players themselves aren’t household names, high-profile personalities do pop up every now and then. Emmanuel Adebayor won a case against Paraguayan club Olimpia in DRC earlier this year.
However, it is rare for a dispute to arise in one of the larger and more established leagues and between a player and a club with the respective profiles of De Jong and Barcelona. Then what about Neville’s suggestion?
Barcelona’s reluctance to pay the deferred wages is certainly uncomfortable now that Jules Koundé joins Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha at the Camp Nou, their net spending on transfers this summer approaches €150m. At the same time, Barça have not unilaterally and without prior consultation deferred the wages of De Jong or other first-team players. The deferrals were negotiated and – in the specific case of De Jong – agreed as part of a new contract extension. While de Jong may fairly believe he’s entitled to his deferred wages upon leaving, Barcelona could argue they weren’t due yet.
That was one of the arguments in the case of Diego Polenta, a defender from Uruguay Complaint filed with DRK against Olimpia – the same Paraguayan club involved in Adebayor’s dispute – last year. Polenta’s contract was surprisingly terminated in June 2021. Olimpia named the impact of the pandemic, although the termination came more than a year after it began. As part of a broader compensation package for breach of contract, Polenta is also seeking more than $175,000 in unpaid wages from April, May and June 2020, which he previously deferred until March 2022.
The DRC returned a partial ruling in favor of polenta, ordering Olimpia to pay the player more than $2.3 million in compensation. However, on the specific issue of unpaid salaries for 2020, the DRC agreed with Olimpia that these were deferred until 2022 and were therefore not yet due at the time of his contract termination. Comparisons with de Jong’s situation cannot be made as each player’s contract is different and involves different obligations, but Polenta’s case shows that legally it is not always easy for a player to be owed salaries to which he has agreed has to postpone them.
As for Neville’s suggestion that Fifpro should be implicated in De Jong’s case, it is up to the player concerned and their representatives to contact the union in the country they are playing in for support if they feel it is necessary consider necessary. For Barcelona players, that would be the Asociación de Futbolistas Españoles (AFE). It is rare for Fifpro to become directly involved in individual disputes, as Neville suggests, unless a player has no national union to turn to and therefore few avenues of representation. Fifpro, AFE and the Dutch players’ union – Vereniging van Contractspelers – are not currently involved in De Jong’s case.
At the moment it’s between De Jong, his representatives and Barcelona. With more than a month left for this saga until the window closes, there is plenty of time to find a solution. As sports lawyer Dr. Gregory Ioannidis said recently The Independent, a negotiated settlement between these parties is far more likely than litigation. “If the player really wants to move to Manchester United without losing his much-heralded ‘deferred payments’ at Barcelona, there are ways to achieve that by exploring all options that include terminating contractual obligations and claiming ‘liabilities due’ include.”
Regardless of whether it’s solved or not, the feeling is that there is still some distance to be covered in this summer-long brinkmanship game. De Jong to United has proved to be one of the most chaotic transfer sagas in recent memory and given how the summer has gone so far, there’s a chance it could get even chaotic.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/frenkie-de-jong-wages-barcelona-b2135639.html Frenkie de Jong explained the deferred wages: why Barcelona’s standoff is part of the growing trend