The Ultimate Guide To Release Clauses (Football)

As a football fan or video game enthusiast, there is a strong possibility that you may have heard the term “Release Clause” used in several settings. Manchester City completed one of the biggest steals in recent football history in May 2022.

They completed the signing of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, putting to bed long-standing speculation about his future. The English champions activated the young striker’s release clause, making it impossible for any transfer negotiations to take place. 

Here’s what you need to know about release clauses, the intricacies that exist, and the impact that they have had on football.

How to learn English: Noun Clauses
How to learn English: Noun Clauses
What is a release clause in football?

Also known as a buyout clause, a release clause is an exact amount required to release a football player from his contract. This makes it possible for him to `. Release clauses also apply to other roles in football, such as management and other non-playing roles. 

In essence, a release clause is one of the clauses that may be inserted into the contract of a football player by their club in a bid to deter potential suitors from negotiating on their behalf.

Usually, the release clause is set when a player agrees to and signs a contract. This means that players bound by contracts will be able to move for a specific fee once any team matches the said fee.

In the case of situations where negotiations reach a dead-end between teams, a team can choose to pay the player’s release clause, thereby releasing him from his contract. 

The term “release clause” gained prominence in 2017 as the first high-profile transfer was completed using it. Then, Barcelona had set quite a high sum (€222 million) for Neymar, but Paris Saint-Germain chose to pay the amount, forcing the Spanish club to part ways with a player that had brought them so much success at the time.

Similarly, Manchester City paid the £100 million release clause of Jack Grealish in 2021 after the Englishman had the clause inserted in his contract at Aston Villa.

What is the difference between a release clause and a transfer fee?

In carrying out transfers in football, the release clause and transfer fee have the same purpose, to effect the release of a player from one team to another. However, there is a fundamental difference between a transfer fee and a release clause

A transfer fee is a fee paid by a buying club to the selling club to facilitate the release of a player’s economic rights. This transfer fee is usually paid after negotiations between both sides and is usually not a fixed sum.

This is where the difference between the transfer fee and release clause lies. A release clause is a fixed sum agreed upon by the player and his club, which, when paid, automatically releases the player from his contract

A release clause is a non-negotiable fee, while the transfer fee is negotiable. However, sometimes, transfer negotiations may take place even when a release clause is inserted into a player’s contract, such as in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo.

When he intended to leave Real Madrid for Juventus, Ronaldo had an active release clause of €1 billion in his contract.

Still, Juventus negotiated a transfer fee of €100 million for the Portuguese forward.

Similarly, Emerson Royal joined Barcelona in the summer of 2021 and had a release clause of €300 million inserted in his contract. Nevertheless, he was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for only €25 million just 29 days after his unveiling as a Barcelona player. 

Are release clauses mandatory?

Including release clauses in players’ contracts varies from league to league and country to country. Using release clauses is not a universal practice in the football world because only some leagues require players to have a release clause inserted in their contract. 

Players who ply their trade in the Spanish La Liga, for example, are required to have a release clause in their contracts with their clubs. However, in some other leagues, players may choose whether they want a release clause inserted into their contract or not.

Other leagues like the English Premier League, Bundesliga, and Italian Serie A allow players to make this choice.

What happens when a release clause is triggered?

When a club agrees to pay a player’s release clause, it means that the club has triggered the release clause. Once a club triggers a player’s release clause, the negotiations automatically come to an end. This allows the buying club the freedom to negotiate personal terms with the player

As soon as a club triggers a player’s release clause, it is assumed that the player becomes contracted to them and is free to leave his present club to complete the transfer. 

For example, many clubs coveted Haaland in the summer of 2021, but a fee of around €150 million would have been required to secure his services. However, Manchester City recognized that his release clause would reduce in the following season and decided to wait and sign him for less than half of the amount when the release clause became active.

Who pays the release clause?

Usually, the buying club pays a player’s release clause to acquire his services, as was seen when Manchester City signed Haaland. In this case, Manchester City paid the full sum of the release clause to Borussia Dortmund. 

However, there are exceptions to this norm in certain European leagues, such as the Spanish La Liga. In Spain, the player who wants to leave must release himself from his contract by paying the release clause.

The buying club usually gives the player the money, and he deposits the money at the league’s headquarters. For instance, Neymar and Ronaldo paid their release clauses when they were to move to PSG and Juventus, respectively.

Apparently, the clubs gave them the money to do so accordingly.

Can a football player reject a release clause?

Footballers and their representatives have the freedom to decide how their contract should be structured, including the included clauses. If a player so wishes, he can ask that a release clause should not be inserted in his contract. In this case, there needs to be a negotiation in case another club wants to sign the player. 

Also, when a club triggers a player’s release clause, the player can refuse to move if he’s not satisfied with the club that triggered the clause or with the contract offered to him. 

An example of this type of event was seen in 2016 when Arsenal was prepared to trigger the £20 million release clause of Jamie Vardy.

However, the English striker rejected the move after visiting Arsenal and meeting with the club’s executives as he preferred to remain with Leicester City. 

Is it good to have a release clause?

The decision to include a release clause in the clause of a football player has its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

Here are some pros of players having a release clause.

Pro #1: Value on player

Placing a release clause on a player gives the club the freedom to value the players as they wish. As a result, the club tends to have more bargaining power. This is why Barcelona usually prefers to set a high release clause on most of their players.

As seen when the Spanish side sold Neymar, his transfer fee would have been much reduced if there was no release clause.

The release clause removed the need for negotiations.

Pro #2: Players could determine when to leave

With a release clause, players can sometimes determine how and when they want to be sold. It has been reported that Haaland has negotiated a release clause in his Manchester City contract, with the Norwegian forward choosing when the clause is to become active.

Cons

With a release clause, there are also some cons as well.

Con #1: Lack of negotiation power from selling club

A release clause takes the power of negotiation away from the selling club. Once a player’s release clause is triggered, the club has no option but to release the player immediately.

As a result, the club has no choice but to allow the player to leave even if he’s more valuable at the time.

Con #2: Deter players from moving to a smaller club

A very high release clause may make it impossible for clubs to sign some players. This happens especially when the players look to move to smaller clubs. Sometimes, a player may want to move to a smaller club.

However, his huge release clause may stop him if both parties do not come to a mutual agreement

This would’ve been the case for Philippe Coutinho if Barcelona had not agreed to let him leave for Aston Villa on a £17.2 million deal.

What if a player does not have a release clause?

When a player does not have a release clause written into his contract, there must be a negotiation between clubs to complete his signing. The player’s present club determines and sets the amount they would accept to release the player, and the amount has to be met by the club that wants his services. 

This type of transfer would be fully based on negotiation, and both sides may have to come to a compromise to get the deal done.

Notable players with release clauses

In a bid to not fall victim to what happened with Neymar in 2017, Barcelona and other clubs in Europe have resorted to inserting very high sums of money as their players’ release clause. Here are a few examples:

#1 Ansu Fati

Young Barcelona forward Ansu Fati has a release clause of €1 billion in his contract at Camp Nou. Unless the club wishes to let him leave, no club can afford to pay that sum for his services.

#2 Pedri

Another excellent youngster, Pedri, has a release clause of €1 billion at Barcelona, showing that the club is unwilling to let the players go easily. 

#3 David Alaba

After joining Real Madrid on a free transfer from Bayern Munich, 31-year-old David Alaba saw a release clause of €850 million inserted into his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Conclusion 

A release clause is quite important in transfer negotiations as it can decide how negotiations over a player proceed. Players may choose to have release clauses if they wish to, making it easier for clubs to sign them without negotiations.

Also, if it is on the high side, the release clause may hinder players when they wish to change clubs.

Overall, having a release clause has its pros and cons, and it is usually up to the player and his club to determine the best way to approach the issue of a release clause when a contract is being agreed upon.

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