Blind Hammer looks at the Pros and Cons of Buy Back Clauses
Our early summer interest in Manchester City’s KELECHI IHEANACHO has apparently hit stumbling blocks over the player’s wish to include image rights in his deal and Manchester City’s desire to insert a Buy Back Clause in the contract.
Whilst the resistance to Image rights should be indisputable given our recent damaging scrape with the Tax Authorities, the situation with a Buy Back Clause is not so clear.
Buy Back Clauses are an increasing feature of Football transfer business. They are attractive to selling clubs who are reluctant to completely allow young talent to depart, in case they flourish to an exceptional extent elsewhere. The deals are normally proposed from a bigger selling club to a smaller buying club.
So Barcelona have been early adopters of the legal mechanism in their transfer dealings and apparently they rarely allow young talent to depart now without a pre-determined Buy Back clause in the event that they “come good”.
So for example Gerard Deulofeu transfer to Everton and Adama Traore’s move to Aston Villa were both made with Buy Back agreements in place. Traore’s subsequent move to Middlesbrough was only arranged after Barcelona did not execute their Buy Back Clause.
Manchester United sold Memphis Depay to Lyon during the winter transfer window but again inserted a Buy Back clause in case the 22 year old came good at Lyon. Manager Jose Mourinho even went so far as to say that the door was “wide open” for Memphis to return to Old Trafford one day.
So in reality inserting a “Buy Back” clause into a transfer actually makes the deal resemble a loan rather than a permanent departure from a club. On the face of it the advantages lay all with the bigger selling club and there is little benefit for the smaller buying club. What the bigger clubs are doing are “having their cake and eating it”.
Before the emergence of Buy Back Clauses All transfers involve an element of risk for both selling and buying club. There was a risk that the buying club buys a player who does not settle into a new setup and does not make the grade. This failed transfer drains resources out of the club. The risk for the selling club was that actually a player would flourish beyond expectations after they depart. For example close to home, famously Ray Houghton did not succeed as a young player for 3 years at West Ham but won multiple medals in the famous Liverpool side for 5 years between 1987 and 1992.
Buy Back Clauses remove a large part of the risk for selling clubs but does nothing to restrict the risk for buying clubs. With a loan at least a buying club has the ability to return a non-performing player.
In the new world of Buy Back contracts dynamics between player and buying club will be changed. If the player does well the buying club will hope that the player will have no interest in moving back to the selling club. This would be an ideal result. In theory a player could love playing for West Ham and resist any temptation to return to a selling club like Manchester City. All could be harmonious. In reality though, it is more likely that this player would have the whip hand in any wages negotiations around contract extension. Any unhappiness with wages is likely to trigger the transfer request which could trigger the Buy Back clause. Buy Back clauses will create hot potatoes for buying clubs to handle.
The temptation then is to avoid dealing with “Buy Back Clauses” on principle if you are the buying club. Although the Buy Back will normally allow a greater fee than that paid initially, this may not provide realistic compensation. Football transfer inflation is rampant and fees are paid for even average players today which would appear absurd only 2-3 years ago. We were in January apparently considering a purchase of a Championship Striker, Brentford’s Scott Hogan, for a fee similar to that which we paid Liverpool for an England International Striker, Andy Carroll, only a few years ago. Thankfully we refrained from this investment, leaving Aston Villa to stump up £15 million to Brentford.
So can we hold this principle and avoid “Buy Back”?
The problem is that the mega rich clubs across Europe are hovering up most of the World’s outstanding talent for themselves and managing this talent through a multitude of loan arrangements, waiting to cream off any outstanding performers which emerge. Chelsea are particularly notorious for this. West Ham had to pay top dollar to them in loan fees and wages for the services of Victor Moses for example. A more experienced Moses was able to slot into Chelsea’s Premiership winning team after development at West Ham and other clubs.
The “having your cake and eat it” benefits of a loan system for bigger clubs will become even larger if Buy Back now becomes the norm. My own view is that this legal clause in transfers structures disadvantage unfairly for smaller clubs and FIFA should outlaw it.
However we operate in a world where to avoid dealing in Buy Back may not be in our best interests. There is a crisis for striker recruitment at West Ham. This is a structural weakness at the club. In 40 years we have only developed Cottee and Defoe as first team strikers of any repute. Martinez may be a bright light on the horizon but is clearly not ready yet. If we are to transition from a smaller to bigger club we may have to bite the bullet and accede to Buy Back as a reality in today’s transfer world. What may be the only issue is to try and ensure the best deal we can with Buy Back.
This may cast an emotional shadow over any recruitment. We may never feel a player under these terms is ever really “one of our own”. However as Payet proved this belief is often an illusion anyway. If KELECHI IHEANACHO scores 20 goals for us next season it might be a price worth paying.