A leading sports lawyer says out-of-contract players in England can ignore FIFA proposals and leave their clubs at the end of June, even if the season has not resumed.
Nick De Marco QC, who has represented sports governing bodies, players, clubs and agents since 2002, says players will be entitled to “walk away” from clubs if their contracts expire on June 30.
Earlier this week, FIFA proposed that contracts are “extended until such time that the season does actually end”, and asked for the same principle to be applied to contracts due to begin when the new season starts.
But De Marco says their recommendations cannot be enforced under English employment law.
“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco, of Blackstone Chambers, told Sky Sports News.
“Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.
“What you’re most likely to see as a preferred option is probably very short-term extensions of contracts based on existing salary terms. That won’t suit everyone, and it can’t be forced on anyone in England.
“For example, if you’re a player coming towards the end of your contract and, perhaps, the end of your career, maybe you only have one more contract left, you may be very reluctant to sign a contract for only a few weeks or an indeterminate period of time.
“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30. So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”
De Marco is advising the Professional Footballers’ Association during the coronavirus pandemic but cannot comment on ongoing negotiations.
He says, from a legal perspective, players who are out of contract from June 30 are entitled to leave, regardless of their club’s preference when the season resumes.
“If the players are out of contract then, so far as the law is concerned, they’re no longer employees and they’re free to walk away,” he explains. “The real issue is, ‘Do the players walk away or not?’. That will depend on the circumstances of each case.
“If the transfer window is closed, they may walk away and not be able to find another club. Now they may have a legal claim in those circumstances, or they may just have to wait two or three months. They might prefer that, to signing a contract that stops them making the next move. What individual players will do will depend on each player and each club.”