• FA chairman warns clubs – and leagues – could be lost

By Andrew Atkinson Chief sports editor

FIFA’s recommendations of player’s contract extensions cannot be enforced under English employment law – according to Nick De Marco QC.

Out of contract players in England can depart their clubs on June 30, said De Marco, who has represented sports governing bodies, players, clubs and agents since 2002.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” said De Marco.

“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.

“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.

“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,” he said.

De Marco, advising the Professional Footballers’ Association during the coronavirus pandemic, said: “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.

“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.”

FIFA have said they will allow Associations to move the dates of this summer’s transfer window.

“The bigger issue for all of us is obviously how long this coronavirus goes on for and when we can resume the season,” he said.

“That will have the greatest effect on the transfer window and when the season restarts. What would happen if the season couldn’t start until August or September, which is quite possible?

“If you didn’t start the transfer window until after that, it could be very unfair to players, who are going to be out of contract in June, and don’t want to sign the new contract.

“It could be very unfair to clubs who would be desperate, some of them, to release players,” said De Marco.

“One possible solution that’s been suggested is allowing players to sign pre-contracts,” said De Marco.

“So, if a club wants to keep a player, but the player doesn’t really want to sign a two-month contract because they’ve got an offer of three years somewhere else, they can sign the three years somewhere else, but it starts in two months’ time.

“The problem with that is you have all sorts of integrity issues. I don’t think we will really know what the solution is until we’re closer to knowing when, and how, the season can resume.

“I think the most important thing we will see is the global economic crisis and, in particular, the squeeze on football finances means that it’s going to be a very depressed football market,” said De Marco.

“Not just in terms of transfer fees but, also, you’d expect that to have a knock-on effect on players’ wages.

“There are clubs who can afford to pay players’ wages, there will still be those clubs, in the UK and in Europe. Those clubs will be competing for the very best players.

“It does mean that those very best players will still be able to maintain a high salary.”

FA chairman Greg Clarke has warned that clubs and leagues could be lost as a result of the financial impact of the pandemic.

“I’d hope that the FA listens very carefully to the Premier League and the Football League.

“And also to the clubs and players about what they see is necessary to make the season work,” said De Marco, speaking to Sky Sports News.

“It would make no sense at all for the FA to just enforce rules for the sake of it, if that doesn’t help the season get going again or if it just leads to loads of disputes between players and clubs.

“The FA have to listen very carefully to what those on the frontline in the game say is necessary and I would expect they would do so,” said De Marco.