Galling season for Van Gaal; Employment rights for Football’s top Managers

John Hendrie

After being eliminated from both the Champions League and the Europa League, plus their recent failure to beat West Ham, Manchester United are on the cusp of failing to qualify for the Champions League after United’s destiny was taken out of their own hands. Louis van Gaal could yet face the humiliation of missing out on European football next season altogether. Calls for the United boss to be sacked are increasing. Rumours of a “Mourinho Manchester” are flooding the back pages; piling the pressure on the Dutchman. So what happens when a football manager is dismissed? Like employees in England and Wales, football managers’ sign contracts of employment and when they are dismissed prematurely they will demand compensation.

Options available

Were Van Gaal to be sacked after 19 May 2016, he could bring a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal as he will meet the two years qualifying service criteria. However it is highly unlikely Van Gaal will lodge in the Employment Tribunal as the maximum statutory award is £78,962 for unfair dismissal and £25,000 for a breach of contract claim.

Hardly fit for purpose when his contract is worth £7.3million.

A breach of contract claim can be brought in civil proceedings where there is no limit on damages. However there are high costs that come with civil proceedings and adverse publicity clubs and managers will be keen to avoid.

The Premier Leagues Managers Arbitration Tribunal (“MAT”) is favoured by Premier League Mangers. The tribunal, made up of barristers who are experts in sports employment law with a good understanding of the football industry, was chosen by managers such as Alan Curbishley, Kevin Keegan and Martin O’Neill who all successfully settled their disputes with their respective clubs.


The best protection a manager can give himself is a well drafted contract of employment. Henning Berg, manager of Blackburn Rovers for 57 days successfully brought an action for breach of contract for £2.25million when the club refused to honour his contract. Berg’s contract contained clauses that ensured he would be entitled to a sum equal to his gross basic salary for the unexpired balance. Berg’s use of the High Court served his purpose, but the adverse publicity it attracted will ensure other football clubs do not repeat the same mistakes made at Blackburn.

Settlement behind closed doors is the favoured approach of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea’s traditional approach has been to offer lucrative settlement packages to dismissed managers and since 2003 Abramovich has shelled out compensation in excess of £90million. Chelsea’s latest casualty Jose Mourinho reportedly received a severance package worth around £12million. Nothing to be sniffed at, and certainly more fit for purpose than £78,962.


Gary Neville has advocated that a ‘Manager Transfer Window’ would provide managers with much greater job security. It would mirror what is in place for players and ensure that when managers are appointed at the start of a season, they will at the very least be able to remain in charge from 1 September until 1 January and should they survive the January transfer window then they would remain in their post until 1 July of that same season. Neville would certainly have benefitted from this policy at Valencia, where he was sacked after just four months in charge.

If you need any advice on any Sports Law related matters please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.

John Hendrie – Sports Consultant





No Win: The Reality of Player and Coach Pressures on Tour

Tennis Coach Adam LownsbroughThe recent announcement of Andy Murray’s split from coach Amelie Mauresmo after two years stating that dedicating enough time along with the travel has been a challenge for Amelie has brought into focus one of the major commitments that affect both the players and coaches on the World Tour.

The relationship between a professional tennis player and his or her coach is definitely a unique one. While in team sports like football, rugby or cricket, the coach is employed by an organization that functions pretty much like a company, tennis coaches are hired directly by the players. This creates a sort of ironic situation, in which the coach, who supposedly is the boss and should have a commanding position, is in fact the employee in the relationship. At the end of the month, he or she picks up the pay from the player, and not from an organization or a company.

A team sports coach can get away with not being liked by every player and the players have to follow the coaches’ directions as they are employed by their organizations. Tennis players, on the other hand, can fire their coaches at any time, if something is not going according to their own expectations. WTA sources have indicated that the ‘average’ life of a player and coach working together on the Tour is three months!

This unique type of athlete and coach relationship requires a lot of work from both parties. It is almost like a marriage, as they spend a lot of time on the courts together, travel together (moving endlessly from place to place every week), eat together, and in most cases live in close proximity for much of the year. In some cases, particularly in the women’s game that can include parents! Consequently, stress and pressure is inevitable unless player and coach are aware of that and are willing to make an effort towards preserving the relationship on good terms.

To outsiders, the life of a full-time tennis coach seems glamorous, even glorious. Tennis insiders know the truth: It might well be the worst job in sports. At the very least, it’s not the high-paying, low-output job it looks like on television. To casual tennis fans, coaches seem to do little more than watch matches from the stands. But away from the spotlight, there’s work to do. A lot of work, much of it menial.

Someone has to book a practice court. Someone has to get rackets restrung. Someone has to push players in the gym and go on the court for as much as five hours a day, often in the sun.  Someone has to count calories and plan proper meals. Its 24/7 with match scheduling that can often mean late night finishes and not returning to the hotel until early hours of the morning.

And then there’s the whining, griping, racket-smashing and lamenting of players who fail all on their own, without any teammates to ease the pressure or pain. Coaches bear the brunt of their anger and petulance. They do all this while being away from family and friends for 40 weeks a year, or more, between tournaments and practice. Mats Wilander, who once coached Marat Safin, the volatile Russian and all-time coaching headache, had to be reachable at all times – ‘Hey, yo, get over here, I need rackets, I need this, I need that, I need to hit.’”

Often players will look to blame their coach for their own shortcomings, rather than face up to themselves and ‘look in the mirror’. A case in point where a leading player on the women’s tour blamed her coach for losing a match against a much lower ranked player from being 6/1, 3/1 up in the match! There’s no job security for tennis coaches. They may have a contract, but when a player wants to end a relationship, it ends. Immediately.

Some players prefer to have specialist coaches for specific parts of the season, like Roger Federer did with Jose Higueras for the 2008’s clay court season. There has been love and hate relationships like the one in which Tommy Haas fired and hired back David “Red” Aim so many times. There are relationships that don’t last too long and there are relationships that are career long, like Rafa Nadal with Toni Nadal, James Blake with Brian Barker, Gustavo Kuerten with Larri Passos, and Justine Henin with Carlos Rodriguez. There have been extreme cases of coaches getting fired on the court by the player, during a match!

Andre Agassi made a very interesting point in his foreword for Brad Gilbert’s book “Winning Ugly”, where he said that a good coach is the one who is able to take his player all the way to the level in which he is not needed any more. This is absolutely true!

Whether some players agree or not, the coach’s role on a tennis player’s development is of tremendous importance. A good recent example of that is Johanna Konta’s improvement under the guidance of Esteban Carril and Jose-Manuel Garcia The 24-year-old has suffered with nerves in the past but has also benefited from the assistance of Juan Coto, a mental coach. Coto, a Spaniard based in London, works with both tennis players and high-flying business people in the City and they have turned her into a better player by making her work out the points with more patience and strategy. The results were self-evident which have seen her break into the game’s top 30, less than twelve months after she began last summer’s grass-court season as the world No 147. All of this has created a great expectation about her performance as British No.1 at Wimbledon.

Usually it is hard for people who are not really into tennis to notice the coach’s finger on a player’s game, and only specialized media approach this issue, but its existence is a true fact and can’t be denied.

Coaches weren’t always so dependent on the whims of a single player. When Bob Brett, the famed coach of Goran Ivanisevic, Boris Becker and Marin Cilic, started coaching in 1979, he traveled with three or four players. Brett respects the desires of current players and admires the quality of care a player can receive from an entourage of coaches, trainers and masseuses.

Yet he sees benefits in the old method.

“For experience and overall development, it’s much better to have two or three players,” he said. “They feed off each other.” Despite all the burdens of coaching, those who do it are addicted to the trade.

Tennis is an individual sport, and the uniqueness of coaching is only one more ingredient that makes it such a great sport.

To know more about the reality and practicalities of life on the professional tennis tour, speak to the Choix Sports Consultants.

Adam Lownsbrough – Sports Consultant 




First impressions … do your numbers add up?

Deborah OgdenYou cannot avoid making a first impression, and recently published research emphasises why it is so important to get it right.

As Warren Buffett, the American business magnate once said: ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently’.

The scientists can’t agree on just how many seconds it is, but in an instant someone has made a decision about you. In a blink of an eye we decide if someone is ‘friend’ or ‘foe’. It is what we are ‘hard-wired’ to do. For our cave-dwelling predecessors it could be the difference between life and death – today, in a business environment it may not be so extreme, but there remains a lot at stake.

It goes deeper than judging books by covers. Visual impact may be the initial sense to kick in, rapidly followed by sound, smell and kinaesthetic, that is touch and how someone makes us feel. These are all ‘clues’ being vetted by our subconscious producing a ‘gut’ feeling of ‘yay – I want to get to know this person and find out more’ or ‘o-oh, I’m getting out of here …!’ Your first impression impacts on your reputation, profile and future relationships.

In a business context perhaps more worrying is the research around getting it wrong. Psychologists suggest it can take a further eight interactions to change someone’s mind – how many times do we get the opportunity for a second go, never mind an eighth!

It’s a human instinct that we like to be ‘right’. As a result, our brains seek clues to back up our first impression – whatever that may have been – good or bad. All the more reason to get it right first time.
Recent research by Harvard Professor and Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy has shed light on what it is we are assessing about someone in that first impression. We consider two things: can I trust this person; and do I respect them? Psychologists interpret this as the behaviours of warmth and competence. Cuddy’s research went on to reflect that in a business capacity the majority would rate competence as most important here – we all want to be seen as good at our job – however it is trust, or warmth which needs to be established first. Competence is important, but without establishing trust, it can appear manipulative and off-putting.

We frequently hear that ‘people buy people’ and the research backs this up. Imagine a candidate who is technically 100% excellent but lacks personality and warmth; or an enthusiastic personality who may score 80% on expertise and fits the dynamic of the office. Attitude or aptitude? I know which I’d go for every time.

When clarifying and communicating an effective personal brand, it’s about being remembered for the right reasons. Be ‘so good they can’t ignore you’, whatever the context: networking; presenting; a pitch or promotion. We all have a personal brand – Jeff Bezos of Amazon is often quoted as saying ‘it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. Are you managing yours, or are you leaving it to chance? It all starts with a first impression …… .

Deborah Ogden – Brand and Media Consultant


0330 321 1460