The recent comments from Liverpool owner John W Henry confirming that Luis Suarez did have a release clause in his contract for any bids over £40million has caused a lot of debate amongst Arsenal fans. It has led Wenger loyalists to hit back at journalists who labelled the £40m+£1 bid as derisory.’ It has led to people questioning the future validity of such clauses. And has even led to a #FreeSuarez petition being created on line.
The loudest comments have been as to why Arsenal did not force the issue, take Liverpool to court and force through a move. A lot of people see this as a simple process which would have seen Suarez be an Arsenal player as the court would have upheld the clause. But that is not the case.
In the first instance, it would have had to be Luis Suarez who would have had to taken Liverpool to court over breach of contract. The clause is in the contract between Suarez and Liverpool, therefore by not honouring the clause, Liverpool were going against Suarez. Arsenal could not have done anything legally. Liverpool had no contract with Arsenal, and therefore had no duty to sell Suarez to Arsenal based on the clause. Their duty was to allow Suarez to leave if the clause was met. Upon the clause being met and Liverpool denying this, they were breaching the agreement between themselves and Luis Suarez, not between themselves and the bidding club.
In summary, it would have been up to Luis Suarez to take Liverpool to court for breach of contract, and not Arsenal to take Liverpool to court to establish the existence of the clause.
Secondly, it can take over a year for a contract law court case to be heard. I have previously had to wait over 2 years for a court case to be heard when someone was in breach of contract with myself. In the fast moving world of football, Arsenal and Suarez would have been silly to initiate a court case which would have taken potentially 2 seasons to resolve. Arsenal would have moved on in that time, leaving Suarez in limbo.
At the time, I felt Henry was playing a very clever game, and was proved right. He knew that by denying the clause would force a court case, and it would take a while to be resolved. In that time, Arsenal would move on and they could discuss a new contract with Suarez, without a release clause, with Suarez receiving a large wage increase.
Suarez himself was also playing a clever game. Had he wanted, he could have pushed through a move to Arsenal. We saw it with Van Persie, with Anelka, with Van Hooijdonk. If a player wants to move, he can get his way. This makes me think “just how much did Luis Suarez want a move to Arsenal.” And for me, the answer was not enough. He would have been happy signing for Arsenal for £180k a week. He would have been happy signing for Real Madrid for £180k a week. And he would have been happy staying at Liverpool for £180k a week. As it turns round, his new contract with Liverpool is worth a reported £200k a week.
In a game where money is king, he got his wish. A big pay rise.
Add in loyalty bonuses, an odd concept in football, not pushing through a move has made Luis Suarez a far richer man. A loyalty bonus is a payment made by the club to the player for fulfilling their contract. It was originally designed to encourage a player to stay at a club, to not hand in a transfer request. The player receives a portion of the loyalty bonus each year of his contact. If he hands in a transfer request, and subsequently leaves, he often has to repay what he has already received in loyalty bonuses.
Likewise, if a club sells a player, without that player demanding a move, then the club will often have to pay up the remaining loyalty bonus. What now happens is the player will simply not hand in a transfer request, and force the issue through other methods, so as to not lose out on a big sum of cash. In some cases, such as with Cesc Fabregas, the club will stand firm despite a lack of transfer request, and the player will pay up. In other cases, the club will fold and pay the player what he is ‘owed’ creating a situation where a player get his loyalty bonus, despite leaving the club (Tevez reportedly got this from Manchester City.)
A final factor is the fact the Luis Suarez could not exactly strike. With him already set to miss the first 6 games of this season, he would already not be available until the end of September. His first game for Liverpool this season was September 25th, nearly a month after the transfer window shut. So what would have happened had he striked? He would have lost pay, Liverpool would have stood still, waited for the transfer window to shut, and he would have pulled on a Liverpool shirt once more on September 25th. Suarez striking to force a move would have been futile.
So why didn’t Suarez push the issue? It is probably because he did not want a move to Arsenal enough. Had it been Real Madrid? Who knows. But Arsenal was not a massive step up, it was not ‘leaving England’ like he originally claimed, and when the new contract offer with Liverpool was mooted, his head was turned.
In the short term, Henry’s stance has benefited Liverpool and damaged Arsenal. With Suarez, Arsenal would have run away with the league. Without Suarez, Liverpool would have been fighting it out with Manchester United in mid table. With the tables turned, Arsenal and Liverpool are level on points.
In the long term, Henry could have done a lot of damage to Liverpool. A lot of players around Europe will still see Liverpool as a stepping stone. A chance to prove themselves in a Premier League side before making a big money move to Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid or Barcelona. Liverpool are in the ‘2nd tier’ at the moment alongside Arsenal where if one of those 4 came hunting, they would quickly become a selling club. With Henry’s stance over Suarez, things will change. Why would the next Luis Suarez want to join Liverpool if, when the time comes for him to ‘make the step up’ Liverpool disregard the clause and fail to release him.
Agents are clever people. They will not let their clients join a club with such a strict stance. Expect in future, contracts to have further clauses that dictate ‘if a minimum release clause is not acted upon once activated, my client doubles his money’. This saga will damage Liverpool in their long term recruitment plans.
As for Arsenal, the damage is short term. We dropped Jovetic when Higuain came available, then let Higuain go to Napoli when Suarez came available. We were so confident of Plan A that we let Plan B & C slip, and had no Plan D. It left us a striker short. In hindsight, we should have settled for Higuain – although I am sure people would have moaned had Higuain joined us, then Madrid signed Suarez for a similar fee.
So what could Arsenal have done in the Suarez saga? Bar encourage Suarez to force the deal, or continue to throw more money at Liverpool above the clause agreement, not much.
Arsenal’s problem is that we did not have a back up for Suarez, and that is what has cost us this season.