One of the more note-worthy player transfers of the season may have just taken place, but not in the conventional way that transfers are initially examined. The situation deals with the movement of 18 year old midfielder Ange-Freddy Plumain on a free transfer from French Ligue 2 Club RC Lens to Premier League club Fulham.
What makes this transfer distinct is the recent focus that has come upon it thanks to a Daily Mail piece claiming that Fulham could potentially face a similar transfer embargo as Chelsea when the same club, RC Lens, took the fellow London club to court over the signing of 16 year old Gael Kakuta.
The fact that this is being reported through the Daily Mail does make the whole story a little dubious, however, the source of the underlying issue is in fact legitimate.
Fulham announced the signing of the young Frenchman on their website this past Thursday as a free signing from Lens. Given the state of the sport’s economy no club really allows an 18 year old to leave for free unless there has been a major disagreement, especially not a teenager who was just breaking into the first team with 22 appearances and 1 goal last season. This is where the Daily Mail actually did it right, they quoted an actual club statement found on their website giving reaction to the signing. For those readers who cannot read French and not using google chrome (I dont speak/read French) that can translate, this is how it reads:
English club Fulham recently reported the signing of Ange-Freddy Plumain. Racing Club de Lens is surprised (at) that information to the extent that the player is still under contract, and had no authorization on a possible engagement. The Lensois attacker is actually absent from his place of work since July 8, without a valid reason. A procedure has been initiated against the various parties involved.
Having given the Daily Mail the Credit where its due, this is where the always questionable news source gets off the mark. They make two distinct mistakes in their analysis of the situation. The first is they dramatize it by adding a completely made up sense of fury from Lens and intimate that the club is threatening legal action against Fulham. The second is that there is actually a similarity if not complete parallel between this situation and the Chelsea-Kakuta situation in 2009.
In reality the club is not threatening legal action, they have informed Fulham, publicly through their website that, in due process, they are initiating a “procedure” which more than likely means they are lodging a complaint with any one of, the French FA, The British FA, FIFA or UEFA, most likely more than one, possibly all just to cover their bases. This is not an actual legal proceeding, to my knowledge, indicating a suit seeking damages, not yet a least.
What can be determined from the situation is that clearly Fulham were under the impression that Plumain was out of contract with Lens and felt that naturally no transfer fee was necessary and they could simply offer him their own contract and sing him up. Lens on the other hand is of the impression that Plumain is in fact still contracted to the Ligue 2 side and takes issue to both the announced signing of the player for free and the fact that he has not reported to work in close to three weeks. Naturally the difference of opinion is going to cause some problems.
One could argue that a club the size of Fulham had to have done their due diligence and there is no way they could have simply taken someone’s word for being out of contract and not fact-checked with Lens. This is a valid point and a counterpoint in favor of Lens’ side can be found in the player profile page for Plumain on the club’s website. It shows “08-14” as the period of time spent with Lens indicating a contract at least untill the end of this upcoming season. While the club’s website news archives don’t go back to 2008 to figure out how long of a contract Plumain signed, there is a brief statement made on the 18th of July this year, claiming that the teenager was in discussions with senior members on his “administrative position” with the club and a potential move abroad.
The statement does somewhat conflict with the claim that he hasn’t shown up for work since the 8th but not necessarily. It does however indicate a few things, first and foremost that Plumain is most likely contracted with Lens through this upcoming season, though the debate about his “administrative position” seems to indicate that his contract is possibly in dispute. This could be to do with a provision in his contract, or any number of reasons that could potentially void it. Either way there is most definitely a legitimate disagreement as to which club the player is contracted with.
The one and only parallel in this timeline that even compares to Chelsea’s Kakuta-gate is that it’s entirely possible that Fulham took the player’s, or his agent’s word that the contract was null. Chelsea took Kakuta’s mother’s word in 2007 that he had not signed a contract with Lens, only to find out that a pre contract agreement had been signed showing intent to sign with Lens, not Chelsea, when Kakuta turned 16.
The major difference here is that Fulham are not dealing with a provisional youth pre-contract agreement. Plumain is 18 and with 22 senior appearances last season, it seems unlikely that he’s not on a full professional contract having been able to sign one for two years (In France players under 16 cannot sign professional contracts hence Kakuta signing a pre-contract agreement of intent). Fulham had to have been under the distinct impression that the player’s contract with Lens was by some provision void and null because there is also no way they would’ve been told Plumain was simply out of contract without double checking with Lens.
It is at this point where no comparison can be made to Chelsea’s transfer ban punishment. The cases are simply different. Chelsea was being accused of blatantly tapping up and inducing Kakuta to break his contract with Lens which was later found to be invalid because technically his mother was the signer not Kakuta himself. With the case of Fulham and Plumain, Lens made a public announcement that they were discussing Plumain’s contract, specifically his “administrative position” most likely referring to his registration status and thus his contract and a potential move abroad. Though the statement makes no reference to Fulham, it doesn’t really matter, the club admitted to the discussions predicating on a move away from Lens.
At the moment, this is not a case of Fulham tapping up a player. Plumain was definitely on a full contract with Lens and not a situation where they expected him to sign and in fact didn’t. More likely, it seems that Plumain looked to discuss a potential loophole or clause in his contract that could get him a free no-strings move to Fulham before his contract was technically up. This makes the situation a contract disagreement between Lens and Plumain that consequently calls into question the legitimacy of Fulham’s contract.
Like many smaller clubs, surely Lens was resigned to losing another youth product to big club poaching practices and wants compensation for the player. Rather than take legal action, like the Daily Mail suggests they have threatened, Lens is actually just following procedure and making a complaint so that the situation can be resolved. If after investigation, Fulham is found to have illegally known about some provision in Plumain’s contract and induced the player to pursue it, then yes, there may be an existing parallel and sanctions might occur, but at the moment, to say that the club could be facing specifically the same punishments Chelsea did in September 2009 is overlooking a number of important details and discounting an equal number of other possible outcomes. Surprise Surprise it’s the Daily Mail.