Liverpool owner John Henry has reportedly admitted that Luis Suarez had a 40 million pound ($67 million) release clause in his last contract and despite Arsenal’s £40 million plus £1 offer last summer, the club simply refused to sell the striker.
“Luis Suarez is the top scorer in the English Premier League which is arguably the top soccer league in the world,” Henry noted while speaking as a panel member at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last weekend.
“And he had a buy-out clause – I don’t know what degree I should go into this – but he had a buy-out clause of £40m. So Arsenal, one of our prime rivals this year, they offered £40m and one pound for him and triggered his buy-out clause.”
The story concerning Suarez’ possible transfer was one of the biggest transfer topics of last summer. The Uruguayan striker, who was in the midst of his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, was unsettled at Anfield. He wanted to play in the Champions League and when he heard of Arsenal’s interest in him, considered putting in a formal transfer request or even taking legal action.
His basis for a potential legal action was the presence of the buy-out clause, a contractual provision that typically allows a player to leave a club if the stated value is triggered by an offer. Given Arsenal’s now famous £40m + £1 offer, it would seem Suarez had the grounds to bring such a suit.
So how did Henry get around the problem? Staunch refusal, for one thing.
“What we’ve found over the years is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually not in England, in world football. It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving.
“We sold Fernando Torres for £50m. We didn’t want to sell but we were forced to. For the first time (with Suarez) we took the position that we weren’t selling.
“Since apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold, we took the position we’re just not selling and it’s been great for Luis, it’s been great for us, and what will happen at the end of year, I think we’re going to make Champions League and we have a small chance of winning the Premier League this year.”
Sitting in 2nd place four points adrift of leaders Chelsea and with a favorable schedule remaining, few will deny Liverpool’s title chances. But what about the legal implications of what Liverpool has done with regards to this buy-out clause?
Did John Henry pull off something illegal? Did/does Arsenal have a legal claim to Luis Suarez? Will this situation render buy-out clauses unenforceable in world soccer?
No, no and no. The real key in this case, as in all buy-out clause situations, is the structure of the language in the clause. And in Suarez’ case, the language was incredibly broad. The contract did not say – ‘if a bid of £40m is received, Liverpool must sell.’ As explained by Professional Footballers’ Association boss Gordon Taylor last August, it said – “if there is no qualification for the Champions League and if there is a minimum offer of £40m, then the parties will get around the table to discuss things.”
In other words, by including this good faith language requiring the parties to discuss the possibility of a transfer, that hugely softened Suarez ‘buy-out’ clause to the point where, well, it wasn’t really a buy-out clause at all.
Liverpool abided by the terms of the agreement, met with Suarez, discussed with him that they didn’t want to let him go – or, as many speculate, that he would stick it out one more season and could leave if the club didn’t qualify for Champions League – and that was it.
Terms of the contract were met. No legal claim for Suarez or Arsenal. Really, really good lawyering on the part of Liverpool.