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Buy-out clauses and how they work in Spanish football

Spanish buyout clauses seem simple - Pay X amount as stipulated in the contract and Player Y is yours. However, football transfers are rarely as straightforward as they seem, and there exists a myriad of regulations and laws governing this aspect of transfers.

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Editor's Pick 27 May 2015, 15:41 IST
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Buy-out clauses in Spain work differently from other countries

With the transfer window about to open, a lot of speculation regarding the futures of a lot of European footballing superstars is about to arise. Rumours will be circulated, particularly over the Internet, with every website, blog and publication talking about how Club X is going to sign Player Y for Z amount.

It’s become common these days, particularly in the cases of transfers from the Spanish Liga BBVA, to discuss a player’s buyout clause while talking about his potential transfer. Some publications also use the phrase release clause to refer to this. At face value, it seems rather straightforward. Pay Z amount, and Player Y is now yours. However, it is rarely as simple as this.

Before getting into an analysis of the other factors involved in the workings of a buyout clause, it’s important to note that the transfer of a player involves three parties – the buying club, selling club and the player himself. A simplified version of how this process works is that the two clubs must first reach an agreement as to the transfer fee, and then the buying club must negotiate personal terms (i.e wages, image rights, etc.) with the player himself.

Difference between buy-out and release clauses

A release clause, simply put, is a clause in a player’s contract which automatically requires a club (subject to qualifying conditions dependent on each individual contract, such as non-participation in the Champions League, a specific date, or a bid from a Champions League club) to accept an offer of a pre-determined amount set out in the contract by the buying club. If the minimum amount is triggered, the player is indeed allowed to speak to the buying club.

Release clauses are not particularly common in the Premier League, although, in the recent past, a few examples come to mind. Joe Allen’s £15 million move to Liverpool was reportedly based on the fact that the release clause in his Swansea contract allowed him to move if the bid came from one of five clubs, which included Liverpool.

Demba Ba’s move from Newcastle to Chelsea was possible for £7 million due to the fact that he had a release clause that allowed him to move to a Champions League club if a bid of that figure was received. When Marouane Fellaini made the move from Goodison Park to Old Trafford on deadline day, Manchester United had to pay £4 million more than they might have if they had moved early due to the expiry of Fellaini’s release clause.

Demba Ba had a specific release clause that allowed him to leave for a Champions League club

A buy-out clause is a different proposition. In Spain, buy-out clauses are mandatorily inserted into every player’s contract, as given by the Real Decreto 1006/1985 of 26 June (For the Regulation of the Employment of Professional Sportspeople).

This has created a tendency in Spain to insert huge release clauses into the contracts of star players. Lionel Messi has a rumoured buyout clause of €250 million while Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have a buyout clause of €1 billion. These are not so common in England due to the differences in legal systems and the way in which English courts are likely to look at these clauses, which in most likelihood is to hold them null and void.

A buyout clause, simply put, is the valuation that a club has of a player. If an offer equal to the buyout clause is met by a purchasing club, the selling club must accept the offer and the player may move. The key difference here is that under Spanish law, it is not the purchasing club that makes the payment, but the player himself. It is this small detail that creates a lot of the complications and technicalities involved in triggering a buy-out clause.

Buy-out clauses examined

A buy-out clause, or "cláusula de rescission”, is literally what it claims to be. A player must buy out the pre-determined value of his contract. They had existed in Spain for about 10 years before the landmark Bosman judgement, but post-Bosman, it became a way that nervous clubs thought they could protect themselves against a possible legal and financial meltdown wasn't heading their way with players coming and going as they chose.

The idea here is that when a player signs for his new club, he and the club agree on a set fee, which, if paid, allows the player to leave and his employers cannot prevent that.

Each individual contract with a player will have a differently worded buy-out clause. Some buyout clauses would be triggered simply if an offer of the stipulated amount was received while others would have other factors that would be needed to complete the transaction. Either way, the important thing to note here is that if the buyout is activated, the amount must be transferred by the player to the selling club. This is where things get interesting.

Most players, despite earning large sums of money, don’t have £30-40 million to buy out their contracts. This must be provided by the purchasing club, who would transfer the money to the player, who then uses those funds to buy out his contract. Now, when the purchasing club transfers the money to the player, that amount is subject to tax. In Spain, the rate of tax payable on this transaction, which would have to be borne by the purchasing club, can be anywhere from 20 to 47 per cent.

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