Unpaid Wages Becoming a Consistent Issue with Eastern European Clubs

FIFPro LogoFIFPro, the organization representing professional soccer players worldwide, made a statement publicly giving a “negative” recommendation for players interested in signing for clubs in Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.   The statement cited contractual fulfillment and salary payment as the primary issues of concern with clubs not participating in European competition (i.e. Europa and Champions League).

The warning from FIFPro is actually an endorsement of a statement made by Louis Everard, Director of the VVCA (the Dutch Players Association); Everard also holds a seat on the FIFPro board. Earlier this month, through the VVCA, he warned Dutch players to avoid the leagues in the Aegean region due to non-payment of salaries,

“We give an unambiguous negative transfer advice for these countries: Do not do it.”

In his warning, Everard claims that 50% of Dutch players will encounter serious salary problems. Despite his advice, he expects 15 to 20 Dutch players to make transfers to clubs in the three mentioned countries.FIFPro mirrors the statement from Everard but doesn’t go so far as to completely denounce Greece, Turkey and Cyprus as professional destinations altogether.  Instead, they encourage players to put in a good deal of due diligence about the club they’re considering and the club’s ability to maintain the financial obligations it owes to its employees.

The issue of delayed payments of player salaries may still be fresh in the minds of readers with regards to Cyprus.  In the spring of last year players from four Cypriot clubs went on strike due to several months of  the clubs failing to pay wages. The strikes were supported by the president of the Cypriot Player’s Union Spyros Neofytidis, who stated that it was “unacceptable that most clubs in Cyprus are behind with the payment of salaries. But it is totally unacceptable that there are teams that have not paid any salary in 2012…”

Though the strikes ended once clubs began paying what was owed, it was revealed that 77% of a 315 player survey in the Cypriot league dealt with delays in payments.  The survey claimed that of the players experiencing delays, 74% of players dealt with delays up to 3 months, 21% had delays up to 6 months and 3% had not seen a salary payment in up to a year.

That level of financial chaos within the sport is incredible and given Greece’s overall financial situation, it seems plausible that a similar problem exists there as well. Many baulk at the insinuation that Turkish clubs could be included into this group of financial misfits with many using Galatasaray, Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Trabzonspor as examples of clubs who are too big and successful to not be able to pay wages.

Though FIFPro references a financial inability to pay as a primary concern when considering clubs, Everard doesn’t.  His warning leaves the explanation more open, choosing to focus on the the general likelihood of receiving what is owed. When looking at salary disputes in Turkey, it seems more that clubs show a trend of shady dealings in regards to contract specifics rather than an inability to pay.  Michael Stewart, a Scottish midfielder, is an example of a Turkish club refusing to pay what is insinuated as guaranteed salary while the player was injured and recuperating.

Thomas Mhyre, a Norwegian player who had a brief stint at Besiktas and whose back-payments took close to 18 months to finally be repaid, makes a similar assertion about Turkish clubs that they are concerned with on field performances and if a player doesn’t perform well, the player doesn’t deserve the salary.  This is indicative more of a performance based payment expectation by the clubs.

Louis Everard makes reference to this type of contractual maneuvering when discussing Eastern European clubs and their contractual habits.  He mentions examples of net salary being split into 10% guaranteed and 90% incentive and bonus based, and that a club attempted to insert a clause that stated if they lost interest in the player that they could simply terminate his contract on the spot without any compensation to the player.

These are the types of contractual stipulations that if not properly reviewed can lead players to having major issues with clubs.  A more recent example of a larger Turkish club is Rune Lange and Trabzonspor. Lange’s contract stipulated that after 45 days of non-payment on his salary he could void his contract and sign with a new club – this occurred and he did exactly that.  Lange’s contract was in 2001 but it wasn’t until 2009 that he was finally awarded 15 million Norwegian Kroner from Trabzonspor in back pay which by today’s exchange rate is about $2.46 million USD.

Without knowing more details of Michael Scott’s contract, or Thomas Myhre’s and Rune Lange’s situation, it is possible that they are explainable but they certianly do not help the reputation of Turkish clubs.  Beyond this, it seems fair to say that since FIFPro’s public documents on settlements intentionally hide the player and club nationalities that there are certainly more examples that are not reported.

It will be interesting to see the responses from the representative players’ associations as well as the leagues and national associations to these warnings.  More than likely, larger clubs will attempt distance themselves from the smaller ones but it seems unlikely that there will be a complete denial of these types of situations. What will be more important than the reactions though, will be the steps the associations take to resolve and prevent further occurrences of similar problems.  The cliche stands that the first step is admitting you have a problem, time to see who admits it.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.