25 October 2019

Emiliano Sala and contractual payment obligations

FIFA has finally ruled that Cardiff City FC must pay the first instalment (£5m) to FC Nantes for striker Emiliano Sala. Unsurprisingly, Cardiff are set to challenge FIFA’s ruling through the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Cardiff had previously agreed to pay Nantes £15m for the striker and subsequently announced their record signing on 19 January. However, just two days later, Sala sadly died in a plane crash over the English Channel whilst he was travelling from Nantes to Cardiff.

Cardiff have since argued that they are not liable for any of the agreed £15m transfer fee because Sala was not ‘officially’ their player when he died, despite their previous public announcement.

From a sports law angle, when an international football transfer is agreed the transfer agreement is uploaded to FIFA’s TMS international transfer registration system. The transfer then has to be ‘matched’ by the other club. Once this has been ‘matched’, the buying club can then request an international player certificate to register the player’s transfer. The final step to conclude an international player transfer is for the football association of the buying club to acknowledge receipt of such certificate.

Apparently all of these steps were followed by Cardiff and Nantes and the Welsh Football Association received the relevant player certificate from the French football association via the TMS system.

However, Cardiff argue the Premier League had rejected certain clauses in Sala’s contract regarding ‘signing-on fees’ and therefore this made his contract null and void because Sala had not been able to sign a revised version of the contract before his death. Nantes argue that they had been fully compliant with FIFA rules, reiterating the fact that FIFA had registered the international transfer certificate on 21 January at 5:30pm.

Cardiff’s main argument is that Sala’s contract was a ‘conditions precedent’ contract. Under contract law, such an agreement will only come into force if and when certain contractual obligations and conditions are fulfilled. Cardiff maintain that such obligations and conditions in Sala’s contract were never met.

As a result, since January, no interim payments have been made to Nantes, despite Cardiff agreeing that the first instalment would be paid on the day of Sala’s transfer; the second instalment in January 2020 and the final instalment in January 2021.

Given the sensitivity of the matter, it would appear that Cardiff are acting in ‘bad faith’; however, Cardiff stand by the fact that there remains a genuine legal question over the validity of Sala’s transfer – a question that is worth £15m. For now, we must all wait in anticipation for the ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

For more information on sports contracts, do get in touch with Dan De Saulles on ddesaulles@hcrlaw.com or on 01905 744 865.

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About the Author
Daniel De Saulles, Solicitor
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