Doing An Ndong

Some footballer’s names are immediately recognisable to the general public because their on-field contribution reaches further than just fans – Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Nosworthy – but only one footballer’s name has become a generally used word in business. And not even an especially good footballer – Jean Marc Bosman.

The Bosman case changed the way players are valued and how they are transferred in the European Union and, in the simplest possible terms, states that, at the end of a player’s contract, the club cannot keep the player’s registration documents irrespective of their potential value. If the player has served his side of the contract, he should be allowed to move freely to another club if he wants to.

The key here is that the player has served his time. But what does that mean? The case refers to the satisfactory completion of the contract. At the time, clubs worried that, theoretically, a player could sign on for large amounts of money and big wages, refuse to play and walk away for nothing at the conclusion of the deal.

Players and their representatives pointed out that a player’s value would collapse (as would their potential wages) if they refused to play and that wouldn’t be in their interest.

An awkward balance has existed since with some players letting contracts run down completely and others using the ‘in the last year’ line to win big (and long) contracts from their clubs. Either way it was the players and their agents who held all the cards.

But what if a player, signed on a five-year deal for a record transfer fee, didn’t perform? Usually you’d expect the club to cut its losses and sell the player after a year. Or two years. Or three years. Every year the player’s value falls and every year the player has more power as they get towards the end and walking away for nothing.

What if that player had an attitude so poor that, no matter what the club did, he simply wasn’t prepared to step up to the mark?

An attitude that saw him refuse to even attempt to learn some basic English to be able to talk to colleagues and fans, saw him loaned out and then treat the loan club with the disrespect he had shown the parent club, saw him return late from international duty on a number of occasions and finally simply not turn up to pre-season training at all.

With a weighty HR file like that you’d expect the employer to accept that, as they didn’t want to be there it’d be best to just go their separate ways and terminate their contract (as the individual had behaved as if it had been terminated already).

The problem in football is that, following Bosman, does the termination of the contract mean the club must release the registration? The simple answer is we’ll soon find out! Will ‘NDong’ soon be as well-known as ‘Bosman’? It’s worth remembering Bosman lost everything to pay his legal bills so it’s unlikely that a court case is high on the list of resolutions for either side.

UEFA added a rule to protect clubs from a ‘lazy Bosman’ which said that if the player was dismissed during the period of the contract, the club would be entitled to compensation from any club who wanted to buy the player’s registration, but that’s never been tested legally.

It seems clear to me that there has been no ‘satisfactory completion of the contract’ based on any test of those words I can come up with so the player is left with three choices – buy his registration, play in a country who won’t demand his registration (Bosman played in India) or work in McDonalds.

The other problem is, as Bosman found, who wants to sign a player who is a troublemaker, doesn’t turn up and doesn’t give 100%? Perhaps Didier will be seen on a McDonalds badge after all (you know he’d have no stars).

The most likely outcome (and the best for the club) is a behind closed doors deal to sell the player his own registration (possibly funded by a deal lined up with another club to refund the player) but many clubs will be hoping the case goes to court to gain clarity on the earlier case. A chance at last to minimise the power players have following the Bosman verdict.

I suspect the one club who don’t want to see players moving on ‘an NDong’ are the owners, staff, fans and even players at Sunderland who will be delighted if the end is a quiet affair bringing a few quid into the club, the end of any legal threat and closure to what we can all see was a big mistake from day one. The best news for Sunderland fans is that the new owners and managers seem rather more savy than previously so, hopefully, these players and their agents will soon be no more than a footnote in the club’s history.

Just to confirm, Ndong is still banned from ALS buses...