Daniel Geey, a leading lawyer in the football industry and the chairman of Football Aid, published his tell-all book “Done Deal: An Insider’s Guide to Football Contracts, Multi-Million Pound Transfers and Premier League Big Business” on January 24. Zach Lowy of Breaking The Lines talked to Geey about his experience working in English football and his book.
ZL: How long have you had this idea of writing a book about your experience in the industry?
DG: It started with the blogs I wrote on my website almost 10/11 years ago. I was writing about FFP, third party ownership, broadcasting rights and club ownership and takeovers. I never really considered writing a book until a few journalist friends introduced me to a sports book agent (David Luxton) who is now my agent and miracle worker!
ZL: When I think third party ownership, my mind usually comes to Porto and Benfica as Portuguese teams were using this method to great success only a handful of years ago before FIFA outlawed it. But how prevalent was TPO in the Premier League 10-11 years ago? How difficult did it make life as a sports lawyer?
DG: Good question. There were plenty of TPO deals before the EPL prohibition post-Tevez case and for some time, TPO was still allowed in the majority of countries before FIFA more recently banned it. It meant once banned in the EPL, those TPO rights had to be bought out by the club before the player could be registered.
ZL: How long would you say the Premier League has been the undisputed financial heavyweight of Europe? Would you say that before the new TV deal, it used to be even, or that a different league like Serie A was the number one earner?
DG: For some time, the EPL has been able to deliver huge revenues to its member clubs via the TV deals. Competition especially since BT started vying for the rights with Sky transformed the domestic rights to a £5bn auction. With EPL distributions for the bottom club over £95m, even the smaller clubs receive substantially more than most clubs on the continent.
ZL: Would you argue that the PL’s distribution of resources is far more balanced than any league in Europe?
DG: Indeed. Many argue that the range too between around £150m for winning the league and around £95m for finishing bottom (along with parachute payments) make for a competitive league.
ZL: When working on transfers with foreign clubs, have you noticed that these clubs tend to “take the PL clubs for a ride” with regards to fees? Do you feel as though PL clubs are generally less smart with their spending or is that a commonly mistaken belief?
DG: To be honest, I don’t tend to see the negotiation regarding the fee but I hear lots of agents suggest that foreign clubs look to maximise transfer fees once English clubs show interest because of their purchasing power.
ZL: On the note of English players, would you say that in general, English players are overpriced in comparison to foreign substitutes, or is that not accurate considering homegrown quotas? With homegrown quotas, is it simply inevitable that English players will cost more?
DG: Factors like the home grown players rule, domestic players sometimes taking less time to acclimatise to the English game, and it likely being harder to recruit non-UK players due to Brexit and the need for work permits all contribute to more expensive domestic player transfer fees.
ZL: Let’s touch up on that Brexit part. How do you see Brexit changing the landscape of the PL? How do you see Brexit changing the scope of your job?
DG: Truth is no one actually knows what Brexit means right now! If it means no deal, anyone who is not a UK citizen is going to require a work permit. It’s going to be an administrative nightmare and will severely curtail the ability of clubs to sign top foreign talent.
ZL: In general, what kind of Brexit deal do you get the sense that most PL clubs are hoping for? It seems a “no deal” would drive up prices and complications to signing foreign players.
DG: Ultimately if PL clubs could maintain a degree of freedom of movement so that EU citizen football players wouldn’t require work permits would probably be the optimal position.
ZL: Could there be any possible unexpected benefits from Brexit in the footballing world? Plenty of English footballers are leaving to Germany and other leagues for playing time, do you reckon Brexit would force PL clubs to play English players more?
DG: That could certainly be one outcome. It could also make it more difficult for UK players to move abroad as would be counted as non-EU and would likely need work permits.
ZL: What are some of the biggest daily challenges you encounter in your job as a sports lawyer?
DG: Like in a lot of professions these days, there can be periods when the work can be all encompassing and 24/7. Around particular transfers and deadline day can be usually pretty pressurised and also when dealing with disputes and litigation matters where the wrong result for your client could mean big fines, bans and reputational damage.
ZL: Are there any specific disputes that have brought your client reputational damage, or any disputes where your opponent have been left with grave damage?
DG: Ultimately it’s always about advising your client as best you can and protecting them. It may be a player or manager or club has breached the rules or someone has been sacked and it’s my job to stay as objective as possible and advise in a clear and objective way.
ZL: For any aspiring sports lawyers, what are some pieces of advice you’d give them? Are there any lessons you have to learn in the job that law school doesn’t really teach you?
DG: My advice would be to start with growing and attuning your legal skills. What’s an indemnity in a commercial contract? What’s the process for arbitration? What are IP rights and how can they be exploited. There are so many facets of sports law and initially it’s vital to build your technical skills.
ZL: January is always a busy time for PL clubs and media outlets as well when it comes to covering transfers, but in general, how effective do January transfers tend to be? Sir Alex, for example, was not so active in January.
DG: It really depends on whether the scouting team and manager see a need to add to the squad. Luís Suarez and Virgil Van Dijk are both more recent examples of excellent January transfers but for every good January transfer there is no doubt an equivalent poor signing that didn’t work out! There is no doubt the January window is more problematic as teams don’t want to lose their better players when replacing them is more difficult because of the shorter window.
ZL: With DiMarzio and so many transfer-based journalists, fans have more and more insight into the inner workings of transfers today. But there still are plenty of things that don’t leave the private realm. What’s one aspect to today’s transfer market that you think would shock most fans (without giving any Done Deal spoilers away) ?
DG: Ultimately agreements are confidential between the parties. There can be clauses inserted like release clauses or buy back options etc which depend on the bargaining positions of the player and buying club. I think it would surprise people to know the hard work that an agent has to put into most deals over what may be a 2/3 window period to get a deal over the line.
ZL: On average, how much does an agent make from transfers, and are transfers his only source of commission/income? I think a lot of people have negative views of agents and stereotype them as money-hungry people like Mino Raiola or Jorge Mendes, but they do some much-needed work.
DG: Great question. Typically, a player’s agent will earn around 5% commission from the player’s gross wages. For commercial deals, say a boot deal or ambassador deal for the player, the agent can make up to 20% of the value of the deal.
ZL: With regards to the book, what’s one thing that you feel makes it stand out in comparison to other books about the industry?
DG: And that’s hopefully the fundamental aim of the book. I tried to write something that hadn’t been written before. For example, a look at player contracts deeper than just the headline figures of what a player earns. A book covering complex topics, told in an accessible way.
ZL: Are there any moments where you feel burned out by the cutthroat nature of the football industry? Or do you feel that’s a bit exaggerated?
DG: It’s a fair point and one of the main reasons why lawyers are more involved in the industry is because the sums and significance of each deal. Clubs are committing with transfer fees, wages and agents commission to sometimes over £100m worth of liability in a single deal. It’s vital that it’s done right. Without the vast commercial sums invested in the game, I think I’d have a lot less to do!
ZL: What’s one thing that you’d tell a kid who’s studying to be a football lawyer right now, something you don’t recall being taught in school?
DG: Don’t worry about wanting to be a sports/football lawyer straight away. Worry about improving your skills day in day out, developing your legal knowledge in a variety of topics, like contract law, IP, disputes, etc and then keep up to date with topical legal issues in the sports world from excellent websites like http://LawInSport.com and invest 1-2 hours per week in reading, digesting and thinking about the topics that interest you.
ZL: Now that the first book is done, do you have any plans or ideas for a second one?
DG: The book now being published means I have to now do everything I can to maximise publicity and get the message of the book out to as wider audience as possible. No plans for another book just yet. Not sure I’d have anything more to say!
Order “Done Deal” here: https://t.co/ZcIKsDhD9T.