Contracts Within Professional Football

Whether you are joining a new club, moving temporarily on loan or extending your stay at a club, both parties must sign a contract. They can be very complex and no contract is ever the same. So what does the process look like and what goes into a contract in football?

How does a contract in football work?

A professional contract can only be signed once you turn 17. Prior to a professional contract, you may sign scholarship forms upon leaving education. You can’t be paid a weekly salary until you have signed scholarship forms, although you can receive money from sponsorship deals for boots and clothes.

Scholarship contracts are the same for every player within each club. There isn’t any negotiating and the salary varies by the club.

During my time at Crystal Palace scholars were paid £90 a week with expenses for travel to the training ground available. In comparison, at Chelsea, the weekly wage was in and around £125.

During a scholarship, players are trying to earn a professional contract. Some clubs have set contracts for all first professional deals, whilst some first professional contracts will be up for negotiating. This is usually determined by the potential of the player.

My first professional contract that I signed on my 17th birthday.

Negotiating contracts in football

Upon the offer of a professional contract, you and your agent will have a chat and consult with each other about the offer. Then your agent will go back to the club with what they believe the contract offer should look like in terms of:

  • Salary
  • Length of the contract
  • Bonuses/clauses

However, sometimes the contract offer is good enough and in those instances, it’s just a case of checking over the small print and then signing the contract.

Every detail of a contract will need to be checked over by an agent before you sign it.

The job of the agent when it comes to contracts is to get the best deal possible for YOU!

The club and agent will then enter into negotiations until they come to an agreement. You will be kept informed by your agent throughout this process.

Although there is nothing to say that you can’t negotiate with the club yourself, it is normally easier to let your agent take care of the negotiations. It allows you to concentrate on matters on the pitch and it also allows those who are more experienced in that field to get the best deal.

The manager will have a big say in whether a new contract is offered but won’t have any role in the terms of the contract, or negotiations. It is the job of those higher up in the hierarchy to sort out the finer details.

Once an agreement is reached, the contract will be signed with a club representative present as a witness, for example, the club secretary. As a young player signing that first professional contract, it’s normal to have family present because of the magnitude of the occasion. This is the moment that players and parents sacrifice so much for.

Signing a contract whilst at Colchester United.

What you’ll find in a professional footballer’s contract

Contracts vary from player to player and in a contract you can find:

  • Salary
    • The weekly wage that you will receive.
  • Length of contract
    • Can range from a month to month contract, to a long term one. In recent years players have signed 5 year deals with clubs!
  • Performance-related bonuses
    • Can be individual bonuses to be paid if a certain target is achieved, or can also be team bonuses.
  • Incentive-based clauses
    • If the club is relegated, the weekly salary is reduced significantly
    • If promoted the wage is increased
    • If you play in a certain amount of games a season you are offered an improved contract or trigger a contract extension
    • A release clause is a fee that the club is obliged to accept if a club is willing to pay that amount for you.
  • Terms and conditions
    • The small print that explains the terms of the contract and the expectations of you whilst under contract.

What are individual bonuses in a contract?

These will have been negotiated into your contract and are normally performance-related, except for an appearance fee:

  • Appearances
  • Scoring a goal
  • Getting an assist
  • Keeping a clean sheet
  • Playing in a certain amount of games (e.g. after starting 10 games, your salary may rise, or receive a one-off payment)
  • Promotion bonus (can be negotiated into your contract, although there is always a club bonus for promotion)

There is also a fee that can be negotiated into contracts called a “signing on fee”. This is normally paid in instalments over the course of the contract.

What are club bonuses within football?

A club bonus is a pot of money to be shared amongst the squad for:

  • A win/draw
  • Promotion
  • Progression through cup competitions

Specifics are unlikely to be stated within your contract but there will be a mention of club bonuses somewhere.

I had my contract at Colchester United terminated in the search for regular first team football.

Length of contracts in professional football

Nowadays, clubs at the top of the pyramid usually offer long-term contracts, whilst clubs lower down the leagues tend to offer yearly contracts, which offer no real security for players when you factor in things like mortgages and young families to provide for. Some players are even offered 6 month contracts.

There is no security in football!

Although you are under contract, an agreement can be reached to terminate the contract for reasons such as:

  • Not in the manager’s plans
  • Club wish to reduce their wage bill
  • Issues away from football

This will often become a negotiation when one party isn’t willing to terminate the contract.

You can also leave during your contract through a transfer but for this to happen a fee must be agreed between the two clubs.

So even though it is easy to think that you have that security with a contract, the reality is that there is a chance you may not see it through, so you can’t ever rest on your laurels.

You are always playing for your future and with a new contract the end goal.

It can be a stressful time when a contract is coming to an end. There is always pressure to perform but when you are playing to earn a contract, this can intensify and the risk of picking up an injury or being out of form adds to the worry of being out of contract.

In May 2021 I picked up a serious knee injury with my contract expiring only weeks later. My only worry was not being able to provide for my family!

The pressure can build up and you might find yourself stressed and overthinking it all, which in turn can have a negative effect on performances. This will only damage the chances of earning that new deal.

Once Christmas has passed, we are always waiting for that phone call or meeting to discover what the club’s thoughts are for the next season regarding our contract. When that offer finally comes, it is a huge relief and that’s when the negotiations begin.

Although the offer is on the table, I have found that the mind isn’t at ease until the contract has been signed and the paperwork is finalised. No longer has it been signed, thoughts turn to performing again to earn the next contract, with this cycle repeating itself throughout the career of any player.

It can be an extremely stressful time when it comes to contracts and the negotiations that entail, however, you have to have trust in the person who is representing you in the negotiations. Performances on the pitch will translate into the contract that the club offer. So all you can do is control the controllables, which in this situation is your performances day to day and in games.

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