Possible reasons that made Lionel Messi stay

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For the last three weeks, the world of football gave a lot of attention to what could have been the end of an almost perfect marriage between Lionel Messi and Fútbol Club Barcelona. It is important to mention, though, that this article is mostly based on rumors and media reports, once the writer has never seen the player’s employment contract.

The problem urges around the interpretation of the (clauses) contract. Barcelona and La Liga claim that Messi has a buy-out clause of 700 million euros, while the player believes the clause was in place only through the end of the season 19/20. Eventually, Messi decided to stay in Barcelona, avoiding a huge legal battle with many possible endings. The reason he overturned his decision is not possible to be assured, but some potential issues could justify it.

Based on the clause 8.2.3.6[1] of the contract, according to the letter[2] sent by Messi’s father, Jorge, to the Club, the 700 million euros buy-out clause would not be due when the termination takes effect after the end of the season.

This clause raises the first question: when was the end of the season? We know that because of COVID-19 the season has been pushed and according to the FIFA Regulation on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), the season ends with the last official match of the relevant national league championship. For this reason, the writer agrees that the clause was valid until august, and not June, as Barcelona defends.

Having said that, many people affirm there is no doubt Messi is entitled to terminate the contract and many understand that the clause is not pretty clear if Messi had to terminate the contract before the end of the season or it could be a few days after, because it makes reference to the effects of the termination, not the termination itself. Again, is a matter of interpretation that would come down to the real intention of the parties and the good faith.

Clubs that might have had interest in Messi probably know that they would have to face judges or arbitrators to resolve the dispute and that it could go both ways, because as stated before, the clause might not be clear. Hiring Messi under dispute would mean his new club could be jointly liable for the termination without just cause of the contract under art. 17.2 of the RSTP.

As you can see, the new club could be jointly liable in FIFA. But there is a lot of debate if FIFA would be competent to hear the case. The “Real Decreto 1006[3], the law governing sportsman’s employment contract in Spain, establishes in its art. 19 that the jurisdiction to hear cases arising from these contracts is the Labor Courts’.

Part of the sports lawyers around the world have reminded that according to art. 22-A of the RSTP, FIFA is competent to hear cases that involve the request of provisional International Transfer Certificate (ITC), which would be case of Messi, because La Liga has already said is on the side of the Club.  Nevertheless, according to the Spanish arbitration law, labor disputes cannot be solved by arbitration, being mandatory to take the case to labor courts.

With all these facts, it seems the case would have to be decided by the Barcelona’s Labor Court and under Spanish Law, what would give the Club a possible advantage. Again, we must keep in mind that we do not know if the contract contains an arbitration clause, what could mean the change of the view on the jurisdiction.

It is possible that the 700 million euros clause could be mitigated, because the valid contract has only one season left, the player is older than when he signed the contract, and the remaining value of the contract is not what it was when signed by the parties. No Club would, however, like to compromise its financial plan for an unknown period of time with a possible huge compensation to be paid to Barcelona, specially clubs that have been targeted recently by UEFA and the Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations.

It is impossible to assure something, but the first act of a Club’s lawyer would be to request Leo Messi to show his contract with Barcelona, which is mostly likely what happened with any clubs interesting in having him. Thus, is impossible to know if Messi had or not the right to terminate his contract with Barcelona but is possible to affirm that there were many risks on signing him.

Por : Pedro Juncal

[1]This compensation will not apply when the termination of the contract by unilateral decision of the player takes effect from the end of the 2019-2020 sports season.”

[2] https://www.insider.com/lionel-messi-father-jorge-sends-letter-claiming-leave-for-free-2020-9

[3] https://www.boe.es/buscar/act.php?id=BOE-A-1985-12313

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