The Mystery Behind Failed Transfers in Football

Football transfers are not as easy as it is portrayed on Sky Sports or any other television channel. During negotiations, it is often difficult for parties involved in a football transfer to reach a consensus. This might be due to a disagreement over a specific clause in the contract. 


Clauses are provisions in a contract which states the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of parties to a contract. Some of these clauses have continued to serve as stumbling blocks to the success of some football transfers. Hence, without an agreement between parties on these clauses, there can be no transfer. 

In this article, you will get to know the legal meaning of these clauses, their implications, and players whose transfers revolved around these clauses.

Top 5 Clauses in Football Contract  

  1. Buy-Back Clause

A buy-back clause is a clause that allows a selling club to insert in a transfer contract, the option of buying a player back to the club at a particular transfer price within a specified period. In certain cases, this clause might not have an expiry date.

In the summer of the 2020/21 season, it was reported that Manchester United backed out of their plan to sign Spanish left-back, Sergio Reguilón from Real Madrid due to the selling team’s insistence to insert a buy-back clause in the player’s contract. This paved the way for Tottenham Hotspur to snap up the left-back from Real Madrid without minding the inclusion of the buy-back clause in the transfer contract.

The buy-back clause is very important as it allows the selling team to purchase their player back at the price agreed if such a player breaks through later in the future. The transfer fee is often lower compared to the player’s transfer value in the transfer market. 

A good example of a player whose move was based on a buy-back clause is Spanish forward, Álvaro Morata. Eurosport reported in July 2016 that Morata’s move back to his childhood club, Real Madrid was a result of the activation of the buy-back clause Real Madrid inserted in the transfer contract that took him to Juventus back in 2014. As a result,  he was repurchased for €30 million by Real Madrid. Save for the buyback clause, this amount could have been higher considering the striker’s achievements at Juventus.

  1. Image Rights

Image rights are the proprietary rights a football player has over his/her image, signature, likeness, nickname, initials, and all other features used for promotional activities. Due to the commercial nature of image rights, there is a need for parties involved to reach an agreement on how the image rights of the player will be used. Image rights agreements allow football clubs to use their players’ images for endorsement and sponsorship deals they sign with commercial partners.

Negotiations, as regards the image rights of a valuable player, is a hard nut to crack. This is because in most cases, the image rights of these players are being managed by a third party in the form of Image Rights Companies(IRCs). These companies control the use of the player’s image rights for commercial purposes and there is a possibility that some of the brands the player represents are competitors with the buying club’s commercial partners. 

This is exactly what was reported to have disrupted Paulo Dybala’s transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2019. According to, the Argentine’s move to Tottenham collapsed based on his image rights being managed by a third party. In the words of popular Sports Lawyer, Daniel Geey, ”the marketing company owning Dybala’s rights may have wanted additional compensation from Spurs for the lost brand and commercial opportunities if the club were to restrict particular future deals.” Thus, as a result of the complications surrounding the image rights, the transfer did not go through. 

  1. Sell on Clause
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It is a clause which confers on the selling club the right to receive a certain amount when a player moves to another club(third party). For instance, Pedro Rodriguez’s move to Chelsea in 2015 resulted in his boyhood club- San Isidro being paid 320,000 pounds out of the transfer fee Chelsea FC paid to FC Barcelona.   

Thus, sell on clause enables the selling club to receive a particular amount from the player’s future transfer. The rationale behind the inclusion of sell-on clause in a transfer contract is to fulfill Article 21 of the FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players which provides for a solidarity mechanism to academies that contributed to the development of a football player. 

  1. Medicals

There is hardly a football transfer that takes place without the medical team of the buying club examining the medical condition of such a football player. A medical examination is often the last part of the football transfer before the buying club unveils the player as their new addition.

Medicals allows the buying club to know if the player has a recurring injury or is battling with a disease. The important parts of football medicals are tests relating to the heart and health of the player; assessment of the muscles and joints in the player’s body, assessment of the number of fats in the player’s body amongst other tests.

If a player fails these tests, this might lead to the buying club dropping their interest in signing the player. This was exactly what was reported to have happened when Liverpool dropped their interest in signing Loic Remy in 2014 and  Nabil Fekir from Marseille in 2018. In the words of Loic Remy, ”I came for the medical tests and everything was fine and after that, they [Liverpool] wanted to be sure everything was fine with my heart…….they asked for a specialist for the heart and the guy said they did not 100% agree if I could keep going or had to stop football.”

It is noteworthy to mention that due to the amount spent on football transfers, clubs who decline to sign a player who failed their medicals cannot be blamed for such an action as a lot of money is involved. Thus, it is only sensible that they look out for other players who can play that same position than sign an injury-prone player with a high possibility of not featuring in most of their matches.

  1. Buy Out/Release  Clause
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A buy-out clause refers to the clause in a player’s employment contract which states the transfer price that is needed to be paid before a player can unilaterally terminate his contract with his or her club.  This transfer fee is often paid by the buying club on behalf of the player.  Thus, until the buy out clause of a player is triggered, he or she has no right to leave the club. The buy out clause is often the minimum price a football club will accept before selling their football player.

Hence, most transfers that require the payment of a huge sum of money are often as a result of the amount stated in the player’s buy out clause. Thus, record-breaking transfers of players such as Neymar’s transfer from F.C. Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain and Kepa Arrizabalaga’s transfer from Atletico Bilbao to Chelsea F.C. both involved the buying clubs meeting up with the amount stated in the buy clause of the player so as to secure his or her signing.

On a final note, the transfer window will always be the moment of change most football fans look forward to seeing their teams sign players who can make an impact the following season. However, even though some football clubs are interested in signing a player, the transfer might collapse later during the negotiation stage.

It should not consequently be a moment of indestructible shock when you hear news of your favorite team agreeing to personal terms, while the deal eventually fails to materialize. Examples of such occurrences are already being comprehensively detailed and it is hoped that it is found helpful.

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