Football’s Legal Questions Answered | Daniel Geey Q&A
We sat down with renowned football lawyer, author and podcaster Daniel Geey to get to the bottom of football’s most pressing questions.

These are uncertain times, and while we don’t have the answer to all your concerns, we can help tackle your football-related queries.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Daniel Geey – football lawyer, author and podcaster. We put ten of the most commonly asked questions to Daniel to get his professional opinion on them. Here’s what he had to say:

If the domestic football season continues into June and players’ contracts have expired, are they still obligated to play for their clubs in the remaining matches?

This is a fundamental issue that FIFA is currently looking into. It has been reported in the last few days that FIFA’s initial recommendation is that players out of contact should remain and play the rest of the season at their clubs and such expiry should be extended until the new end date of the season. It would nonetheless appear very difficult for FIFA to compel a player to play if he or she was out of contract and did not wish to extend their deal. 

Could top European leagues legally put a rule in place that requires top clubs to financially support lower league clubs and the grassroots game during this period of postponement? 

Everything is possible right now. The EFL provided significant sums to its member clubs recently, the EPL is discussing how best to manage its finances and Juve has recently announced that it has agreed to reduce the wages of its players.

Indeed, in a range of other sports including rugby, players are being asked to postpone or forsake part of their wages to potentially ensure the long term survival of clubs and leagues.

Could a team like Liverpool hypothetically sue if the Premier League season was declared null and void?

There are so many permutations at present. The FA recently announced that a number of the non-league seasons in England would be null and void, with various clubs unhappy with such an approach. 

The same is the case for clubs around the world that are battling for championships, play-off positions and fighting relegation. The financial upside for clubs promoted to the EPL can be worth over £180m+.

The wider question is why the season should be voided. In these extraordinary times, seasons may have to continue outside of the ‘usual’ season parameters. The first priority for many leagues appears to be to finish the current seasons and if that continues over into the summer, then the authorities may need to be flexible enough to cater for such situations.

What impact will Brexit have on the British transfer market?

The Government, in its December 2018 immigration policy paper, set out its intention to create “a level Playing Field” so that EU and non-EU nationals effectively gain the same UK employment opportunities after the end of freedom of movement. 

It seems clear that the current work permit system will therefore need an overhaul if UK clubs are to continue to be able to have ready access to the best international players. 

If non-UK players are harder to recruit because of work permit requirements, it will mean elite UK talent will continue to become more expensive. This may make UK player transfers to non-UK clubs even less likely. 

Indeed, the current trend that some EU clubs have adopted has been to recruit young talented UK players from elite EPL academies, give them exposure to domestic and UEFA club competition and watch their talents (and transfer values) blossom. Players like Sancho and others who are currently abroad will become even more valuable (and attractive) to elite UK clubs.

One of the consequences of potentially no longer being in the EU will be the difficulty of younger players looking abroad for more diverse playing experiences. At a time when more and more young players are being lauded for adventuring abroad – including the likes of Sancho, Panzo, Lookman, Vieira and Oxford to broaden their horizons – Brexit will make it more difficult for our younger players to develop due to the UK’s non-EU Member State status; the quota restrictions in particular EU countries for non-EU players and the lack of free movement protections.

Leaving the EU will impact on youth academy recruitment, especially for 16-18 year olds. The FIFA Regulations permit the “transfers of minors between the age of 16 and 18 within the EU or EEA”. As the UK will no longer be in the EU, clubs would not benefit from this exception. 

Ultimately, the question is whether this creates more chances for UK citizens/residents (UK players) in first team squads or whether it will just lead to more UK payers populating the academies but not actually transitioning into the first team. 

On what grounds are Manchester City appealing their European ban? What would the implications be on football in general if they win their court case and overrule UEFA?

The club are appealing their sanction of a two year ban from European competition and a large €30m fine. UEFA explained that it found that the club over-stated sponsorship revenues and failed to cooperate with the UEFA investigation. 

The club are appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against UEFA’s ruling, arguing both that it’s incorrect and, even if it is correct, that the sanction is ‘disproportionate’ i.e. too harsh. 

Should CAS side with City, it will be based on the specific evidence that the club put forward. It won’t break the FFP system but will deal the UEFA a significant blow.

The Bosman Rule changed the way football operates forever – do you think players now have too much power in the modern game?

It ultimately depends how people consider the past. Many players believe they did not get the deal they deserved because clubs held too much power and control over their careers.

That certainly changed with the Bosman ruling, and now because elite players can leave ‘on a free’, they have a much stronger negotiation position when their contracts start to run down.

From a legal perspective, what is your opinion of financial fair play? Does FFP work? And can it ever be properly enforced?

The Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules were put in place to ensure that clubs became more self-sustainable by breaking even in the medium-to-long term. UEFA, the Premier League and the Football League all have different regulations setting out spending restrictions that clubs must respect. These are called acceptable losses. 

The result is that clubs can’t generally spend beyond their means. It also encourages clubs to invest in sustainable and long-term revenue-generating assets, like stadia or youth development – costs which are removed for break-even calculations. 

By 2017, UEFA had set out some revealing statistics demonstrating that their powers had started to move club spending behaviour in the right direction. In their benchmarking report, UEFA explained that combined club operating profits had risen to €600m in 2017, compared with combined losses of €1.7bn in 2011 prior to the introduction of FFP.

The main argument raised by those opposed to FFP is that it restricts the amount of money owners can spend on player transfers and wages. This means that current, new and/or aspiring owners cannot challenge the established larger clubs with significantly bigger revenues and better players. 

Successful clubs will earn more revenue, thus being able to buy better players and likely to be more successful on the pitch, which in turn drives commercial sponsorship as more partners wish to be associated with winning teams. 

Smaller clubs cannot usually generate short-term revenues in order to fund spending on transfers and player wages, which means, according to critics of FFP, that aspiring clubs are prevented from challenging the established clubs. 

Inadvertently, the regulations have caused greater inequality from the clubs. As a result, competitive balance (maintaining the uncertainty of results to maximise the attractiveness of the league or competition) is reduced. 

UEFA are no doubt concerned about any potential gap between the high-spending clubs and the rest. The difference is that UEFA highlights that clubs spending more than they earn (and therefore risking financial difficulty) is an issue separate from finding longer-term solutions to competitive imbalance. 

Do gambling companies hold too much power in football due to the sponsorship money they provide? Will we ever see gambling companies banned from advertising in football?

Gambling companies are extremely visible in football with leagues and clubs sponsored by an array of gambling brands. It would seem inevitable that stronger measures will be put in place, at the very least, limiting the ways that gambling companies can reach their audience across physical advertising and shirt sponsorship, and television/social media advertising. The question will be how far the restrictions go. 

Unlike in England, German football operates with a 50+1 Rule. Do you think something like this could ever be brought into the Premier League?

Without huge structural intervention in the club ownership market, it would currently seem unlikely that the German rule could be applied in the EPL. Nonetheless, any potential owner must pass a test. This test is called the Owners and Directors Test (ODT) in England, and used to be called the Fit and Proper Persons Test. 

The FA, Premier League and Football League all have similar rules that govern who can own, control or be a director of a football club. This is to stop anyone who has been found guilty of certain offences or has been involved with insolvent/bankrupt companies. 

There has been talk for many years now about various leagues creating their own streaming service, similar to Netflix, and taking the broadcasting rights away from the likes of Sky and BT Sport. Do you think we’ll see this happen in the near future?

One possible avenue for leagues to consider is, why use a broadcaster at all? Major League Baseball has a direct-to-fan website subscription service, available to purchase for around $80 per season. 

Some have questioned whether the EPL will ever go down a path of setting up a platform and selling straight to consumers, therefore by-passing the broadcasters entirely. Given the broadcasting money on offer (£9bn+), this appears relatively unlikely in the short term, because the EPL would face some very large risks, none more so than starting with zero subscribers and no revenue. 

Another large burden would be the direct to customer infrastructure and start-up costs, and although this could be outsourced to established industry companies, it’s a huge undertaking for the EPL to take on, especially while companies like Sky and BT are willing to pay large fees to guarantee live football rights on their channels. 

Follow Daniel Geey on Twitter @FootballLaw and head over to his YouTube channel to tune into his live, daily Q&A videos – see his full schedule below: