At the end of another baseball season and with European soccer into its 10th game (out of a total of about 40) it can be instructive to compare the lot/fate of the highly paid young athletes employed in these sports in their respective countries… So similar and yet so different. As with people in general it’s the differences that are interesting and you may get a surprise or two from what follows and its implications for the Clubs that employ them. (The Brits, btw, cannot believe the 162 game regular season even after you explain the fundamental role of the starting pitcher, and that there are five of them, so they can rest. Do they have five wicket keepers too then, they ask? Why not?)
Rather than list the two different sets of rules and conditions that govern player employment and mobility it might be more fun to pick an example here that we’re all familiar with, Jason Heyward, summarize the situation he is in and what his options are : as they would compare were he a soccer player of similar age and seniority with, say, a major London club.
How did Jason get started in his quest to be a professional ball player? He was drafted, he had to be drafted, no other way in was afforded him, as in the great majority of cases. The whole concept of a draft is unknown in European soccer – to some people, if you mention it, it has military overtones, even. They cannot believe his choices are so restricted. He can’t pick the team he wants to play for, he’s told who it will be. And the better he is regarded as a prospect the more likely it is that the draft rules will result in him being picked by a weaker organization for whom he is likely to be committed to belong to for about 6 years – see Atlanta 2016. (On the other hand there are no European universities/schools pouring out a huge number of ambitious, talented young athletes each year – high schools even. Remember college sports across all Europe are almost totally devoid of any commercial dimension. Nada!)
But those days are behind him and Jason’s a free agent and thus close to the most crucial few weeks of his career, the choice he has to make. Jason can negotiate with whomever he wants, the Cards he is with now, anyone else he wants to and choose his best deal. That deal will likely come down to the quotient of the number of years offered and the salary for each year. Whatever he gets he gets, his agent apart, the Cards get nothing other than a compensatory draft pick perhaps. They have absolutely no say in his choice of club unless they choose to top the bidding themselves.
Once his choice is made, the length and the terms agreed to, you then have what is a guaranteed contract which may well run for say between 6 and 10 years in his case. If he were traded during that period those terms would survive, be guaranteed and be the responsibility of his new club. Who that new club might be, generally, he has no say in unless he had been able to include in the original contract any sort of no trade clause to particular clubs. If he had, that would usually cost him, effectively.
Yes, you knew that, but I doubt you knew this:
His EU counterpart may actually ‘sign up’ with his first club, very young, any club, whoever he liked that was prepared to carry him through his teen years till he became productive. In Spain they call them Nurseries and they can be very young and thus include normal schooling studies. Messi was 11 and in his native Argentina was diagnosed with a rare disease that inhibited his natural growth. Barcelona signed him through his parents approval and guaranteed his medical costs in Spain as long as necessary. They were the only club who would. He has been the best player in the world for several years now.
(…youthful prodigies are not the norm, obviously, but there are a thousand or two boys of school age in Europe at any one time being trained in their sport, educated in the school room, and the ‘property’ of the club for several years ahead by virtue of a contract signed by their parents. About one in ten make it to the big time. The great majority of would be players of course come from a more prosaic source – local youngsters who attract attention, scouts etc. You will be very familiar with that over here, but remember the essential difference – if he’s good enough, he can pick and choose.)
Messi has a contract with them still of course, so many years, so many dollars, but it was what underlies that and all soccer contracts that makes everything so different there.
First, he belongs to Barca, he is their property for the length of that contract. He is a depreciable asset on their books. If another club want him they make an, all cash, offer…there is virtually never another player offered in trade. The player himself gets none of the transfer fee. Offers these days for a young star player can go 50 Million up, Messi would be 100 plus…and these offers can only be made during two periods in the year of a few weeks each, unlike baseball’s trading periods.
In reality, there is one other major difference in play here and not in America. The star player effectively has to agree to the deal to go to the new club. He cannot be traded against his will. If he says no, it is very unusual for a player to be forced to go. On the other hand, if he does want to go, and his owners say no, he can and does occasionally resort to being a distraction unless he is let go.
For the transaction where both clubs agree on the transfer fee, there is one more large detail to be negotiated, the player’s salary and terms with his new club. Out with the old and in with the new, the original salary etc. die with his departure. And sometimes, not often, a deal will die for that reason, what are called the personal terms.
I think that about does it, in its very basic essentials. I apologize in advance if I have unwittingly misrepresented anything at the American end that you obviously know better than I. I do believe the contrast is a fascinating one and would really enjoy hearing your comments so please fire them in.
Who do you think gets the better deal and what circumstances have conspired to make that so?
And if you had a gifted athlete son, where would you prefer he ply his skills, under what system?