Cristiano Ronaldo’s televised interview with Piers Morgan, broadcast in November, drew the curtain on the player’s second arrival at Manchester United.
In the 90-minute interview, Ronaldo launched an attack on his then employer. It was reported that, due to the interview, the club was exploring the possibility of firing Ronaldo. But within days, Manchester United announced that both sides had agreed to terminate the contract.
Why was dismissal discounted in favor of a seemingly more pragmatic solution?
In disputes between employers and employees, all roads lead to the employment contract. Although professional footballers are atypical employees, employment relationships with their club are regulated by contract. In their case, a standard Premier League employment contract, which is signed by all Premier League players, including Ronaldo.
This contract expressly specifies, among other things, the duties and obligations of the player and the club, and the circumstances under which the contract may be terminated. Under the standard contract, players must not do, say or write anything that could harm the club, its officers or employees.
In the interview with Ronaldo, he made a number of statements that could be interpreted as a breach of this explicit contractual provision. He reported being “evicted” and “betrayed” and stated that he has no “respect” for Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag.
Under the standard contract, Ronaldo was also required, when circumstances permit, to inform the club of his intention to speak to the media within a reasonable time. It is not known whether Ronaldo met this requirement.
What is not in the contract?
In addition to the terms expressly included in the contract, certain terms are implied in the agreement between the parties. Of particular importance is the duty of both the club and the player not to behave in a manner that would result in a breach of mutual trust between them.
Such an erosion of trust requires a high threshold of seriousness. If – as commentator Jamie Carragher has suggested – Ronaldo’s interview was intended to destroy his relationship with Manchester United, to advocate for an exit from Old Trafford, then the threshold would arguably have been reached and a dismissal might be warranted.
This is despite the common practice in professional football of players, and even clubs, trying to destabilize relationships in order to influence a transfer or renegotiation of a contract. In the Kevin McBride v Falkirk Football and Athletic Club case, the labor tribunal rejected reliance on industry standards as justification for a breach of duty of trust.
The standard Premier League contract allows clubs to terminate the player’s employment for gross misconduct or failure to follow a final written warning. Contract termination, and its consequences, is also regulated by FIFA’s rules on player status and transfer, specifically the right to dismiss for “justifiable cause”, which amounts to continued bad conduct on the part of the player.
In football, it is more common for managers, not players, to be fired. This is usually due to poor performance. Given the existence of a player transfer system where clubs can only receive a transfer fee for a player under contract, clubs often opt for pragmatism (moving a player to another club) over dismissal.
Nevertheless, a number of high-profile players have been fired. Dennis Wise was sacked by Leicester City for breaking a teammate’s cheekbone during a pre-season tour in 2002. While beating a colleague is likely to be a valid cause for dismissal, Wise managed to get an unfair dismissal claim on procedural grounds to submit. .
Pragmatism often prevails
Wise’s case shows why officials at Manchester United, despite their obvious outrage at Ronaldo’s comments, favored pragmatism, the mutual termination solution.
If Ronaldo were sacked, he would have been entitled to a disciplinary and appeals process which would have added more uncertainty and instability at a time when Manchester United’s owners were looking for new investment or the sale of the club and the manager was trying build on a recent improvement in form.
In his interview, Ronaldo mentioned a perceived lack of empathy from the club regarding his daughter’s health. He also criticized the state of the club’s health facilities.
While Ronaldo was not explicit on this point, such statements could be interpreted as suggesting that the club was in breach of its contractual obligation to care for players. Regardless of the veracity of such claims, Manchester United officials are said to have calculated that they no longer wanted such issues aired, especially if termination could be reached by mutual agreement without a financial settlement in favor of the player.
Given that Ronaldo had expressed his wish to leave the club and had only seven months left on his contract, pragmatism prevailed.
Richard Parrish, Professor of Sports Law, Edge Hill University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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