The January transfer window will reach its crescendo on Friday, as deadline-day hysteria takes over and the possibility of blockbuster, big-money deals looms large. Coverage will focus on the players, clubs and managers, but without lawyers, nothing would get done at all.
To reveal the vital role played by a player's lawyer, we spoke exclusively to John Blavo, partner and director of Blavo & Co. Blavo has represented stars in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and beyond. Ghana international John Paintsil and former Arsenal star Lauren are among those to have received his counsel.
Bleacher Report: Can you outline the basic responsibilities of a footballer's lawyer, and what type of functions you might perform for a player?
John Blavo: As a lawyer, the most important thing is the contract between the footballer and the club. But you also have to look after everything to do with a player's financial planning. Sometimes you need to point them the right way—in terms of their financial future. In that sense, we provide a holistic service for their future.
B/R: When it comes to transfers, how big a role do lawyers play in getting things done?
JB: Transfers would be impossible without us. Any good player or agent will use a good lawyer who's clued up on contractual matters. Sometimes things are agreed verbally, but you need to see the contract for the details. You might have clauses that need to be looked at carefully, and the player may have very specific views on things.
B/R: Is there usually a lawyer working on behalf of the club also? If so, do you ever find yourself in heated debate over the terms involved in a deal?
JB: Yes, though whether he or she is in the room depends on how complex the deal is. If it's a five-year deal, there'll be a lawyer there. If it's a renegotiation, the lawyer for the club might be on phone.
B/R: How detailed is a typical Premier League player's contract these days? What kind of details are included, and how specific can things get?
JB: They're very, very detailed. The details include where the player should live—in terms of being a certain radius within the training ground. They also include responsibilities in terms of behaviour. If you don't attend training, for example, you'll be fined. Some of it looks draconian, but most of the time you don't need to enforce those rules.
B/R: When it comes to negotiating the fee and a salary, how do you calculate a figure? Are you going off past deals, or is there an equation you reference?
JB: It's a combination of everything. Sometimes if you have an exciting young player it can depend on the interest in them, whether they're played internationally at under-21 level, their ability and how exposed they are.
£25-30k a week would be the average wage these days. The more interested other people are, the more expensive a player becomes. Position is a factor also, in terms of where they play. If there's a shortage of left-backs, for example, that can push the price up.
Normally you meet halfway, or just above that. If the player wants £70k and the club wants £50k, the agent tries to get halfway and then add performance-related bonuses to push it up.
B/R: What's your experience of transfer deadline day? Is it as we'd imagine—in the sense you have to get things done very quickly, and under huge pressure?
JB: A big deal I worked on was negotiated the night before the window. Nobody wanted to agree. It was the player's agent and the player on one side, and the player's club on the other—they wanted a bigger fee.
Things changed very late on and it became a very tough negotiation with a lot of brinkmanship at play, because you're talking about large sums of money. The player gets nervous of not signing a contract. Until you sign the deal, you haven't moved. Players can become very tense and worried.
B/R: Can a good lawyer make or break a deal? What experience do you have of a lawyer pulling off a major coup with some smart thinking?
JB: I've been in the field for 12 years now and have acted for players all over Europe. One recent example saw the agent having too much influence on the player. The agent was trying to get him to pull out, but the club really wanted this player. The agent wanted 10 percent, but we came up with a deal that gave the agent a cut of his earnings instead, which would be paid by the club.
B/R: How do release clauses work? Are they an essential part of every deal?
JB: It all depends on whether you have good lawyers working for you. About five years ago, release clauses were not in every deal. Now, they're very common. You need to predict where the player is headed.
B/R: Have you ever worked with very difficult players?
JB: Yes, quite a few. Some players think they're worth more than they are. You can't tell them otherwise! You have to be very diplomatic. And that's where your experience comes in. You need to pinpoint somebody in their team to work the deal.
Sometimes you need a father to convince the player that we're doing our best for them. We deal with all sorts of players, from all over the world, and the family plays a big role. Family are mini-agents for players.
B/R: Finally, would you recommend being a football lawyer? Is it an enjoyable, rewarding job? What are the biggest downsides?
JB: It's an exciting job. To be associated with it is a privilege, and you get to deal with people all over the world, meeting people from different cultures.
If you do a good job, it's well paid. You get to go to events with your clients. I've met sports ministers, prime ministers and more. It's long hours, and 45 percent of the work I do is unpaid, so you have to be speculative. And you have to be prepared to travel to different countries and deal with the bureaucracy.
It can be very stressful. Dealing with lots of different issues, like being somebody's friend, adviser and marriage counsellor, can be a lot to handle. But eventually it will come naturally and you will have all the answers.
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