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Disputes in a Football Transfer Window - The Perfect Arena for Mediation

28th June 2023

In the realms of negotiation, brinksmanship and the attitude of taking a ‘hard line’ and a ‘tough stance’, and comments such as ‘not (for sale) at any price’, the football transfer window is an intriguing time for not only those directly involved or influenced by matters at hand, but also casual observers of the ‘drama’. The ‘transfer window’ gives football fans something to get excited (or disappointed) about and the media hours of broadcast content and ‘printed’ material and commentary.

However, the simple fact is that the ‘transfer window’ is both a very time limited and covert world (despite what some in the media, may like people to believe), as well as the successful ‘deals’, transactions and transfers that are concluded – it is very rare for there to be full insight into the failed transactions, their causes and all the acrimony that the football transfer window generates, both in the short term and the long term.

Do Some Love the ‘Brinksmanship’, the ‘Theatre’ and the ‘Spotlight’?

I think people could be forgiven for the conclusion that some of the ‘actors’ in the drama of the ‘transfer window’ love ‘the spotlight’; not least as I know some do like to get their name (or the name of who they represent) in the headlines. Added to this, some club chairmen and CEOs have built a reputation as ‘tough negotiators’ and experts in ‘brinksmanship’ during the drama, whilst some managers are labelled as ‘wheeler dealers’ and ‘pulling a rabbit out of the hat’ on transfer deadline day.

But is that really the case, or do they not just have a timeline in mind and targets to achieve within said timeline set well in advance; along with contingency plans should something unforeseen occur?


It may be worth considering that the need to maintain a certain reputation in a transfer window has a negative effect on their dealings during this period, if not even prompting disputes based on misconceptions, misunderstanding, bias and stereotypes?

Mediation can arguably maintain the desired reputations and image that people desire, but alleviate the potential threat and disruption cause by disputes.

Time is Precious’ in a ‘Transfer Window’ (and Values Fluctuate Quickly)

There is no doubting that time has a huge value in a football transfer window, and as the time diminishes, the value of that time and the leverage which it may afford someone, subsequently increases in value.

Whether the increase in the value of the time remaining to one party (whether club, player, agent) is a benefit or a detriment, depends on the specifics of the situation, and so many different variables.  For example:

• If a player is in high demand with multiple clubs bidding for their services, this subsequently should benefit the ‘selling’ club, as well as the agent and the player. As the end of the window draws closer the transfer value (asking price) will more than likely increase, as will the offer to the player (terms, salary, bonuses) and subsequently the agent’s commission.

(NOTE: should only one club remain interested, that also changes the dynamic)

• If a club (and invariably their coach/manager) has their primary target and that player is seen as a key difference between relegation and safety, the club may well be motivated to pay well over the (perceived) market value for the player in question. Subsequently the ‘bargaining power’ of the selling club (and potentially the player and their agent) will increase as time runs out in the transfer window and alternative signings become an even rarer commodity.

• The previous example does however have a ‘flip-side’. Where exactly is the ‘breaking point’ in that negotiation to accept an offer, whether it be based on time available and what is deemed an acceptable offer. Does the selling club then need to find a replacement at an even later stage (and thus be thrust into a last-minute panic and also paying ‘over the odds’), plus do they need to negotiate the release terms with the player and agent.

• And then at the other end of the scale, what about the players who may well be seen as surplus to requirements by their clubs (or even want to leave)? The later these players (and their agents) leave it, not only risks them remaining at a club where they are unhappy or unwelcome, but may also diminish their market value, earning potential or even negate ‘free-agent’ status).

Also the later the club leaves the release or sale of a player in the transfer window may decrease the losses for the club from the release of that player (e.g. forcing a ‘transfer request’ and thus remaining contract payment and redundancy) or even turn a profit for the club if the player has interest from a club elsewhere with a transfer (e.g. a transfer fee, new club pays remainder of players contract).

NOTE : from personal experience in the industry, those players wanting to leave (to another club or acquire free-agent status), or are deemed surplus to requirements aren’t generally the priority for clubs (or agents) in a transfer window.

Whilst all of the above are pretty well-known scenarios in a ‘transfer window’ (if not the foundations for such discussed in advance of the actual transfer window) all of these can be complicated yet further, with the problems and frustrations exacerbated for many by disputes that (may) arise.

Disputes Exacerbate the Problem

It is perfectly reasonable to think that the vast majority of disputes that happen during a transfer window are between those key protagonists in the prospective transaction/transfer, but this is not always the case.

In some cases, a negotiation/transaction/transfer may be held up or even negated due to a dispute involving a third party (e.g. another agent claiming to represent the player).  This is further complicated when the disputes relate to an historic matter or indirectly connected agreements that may have an impact on the transaction/transfer. 


Mediation NOT Negotiation!

Whilst many may read this and think; “well, this is all part of the ‘cut and thrust’ of the transfer window” and that this is mediation in the transfer window, IT IS NOT!

Yet I can forgive the presumption that agents, clubs, lawyers, coaches/managers, players may play the role of mediator in a transfer window (in helping reach an agreement) – as the misconceptions and misinterpreted perceptions of mediation stretch well beyond the football community alone.

On some occasions, I accept that a club secretary, player union representative, coach or lawyer (for example) may undertake a ‘conciliation’ role to repair a relationship and ‘pave the way’ for effective negotiation. Yet this again is not mediation, and the process that follows is by no means mediation whereby multiple parties to a transaction with very different interests are negotiating an agreement, and thus may not reach agreement or consensus due to such factors as conflicting interests, withheld information, bias, false perceptions and even brinksmanship ….this is a negotiation.

It may be negotiation by the agent to get the best contract terms for their client (and themselves), a club chairman trying to get the highest price for a transfer and a sell on fee, whilst their counterpart at the other club is trying to minimise that price and the subsequent cost of the players salary, bonuses and agent fees (should the transfer happen) … this is negotiation, not mediation.

Mediation a ‘No Brainer’ in a Football Transfer Window Related Dispute

Firstly, to argue that in my opinion, mediation is the perfect tool in transfer window disputes; the concept of mediation first needs to be understood better (see However, to summarise the key aspects and benefits: 


  Mediation brings in an independent party (a qualified mediator) to assist the parties in resolving the matters in dispute.

  Mediation allows the parties (in dispute) to agree the terms of resolution/settlement – whilst the mediator passes no judgement in the process (unlike arbitration and litigation).

•  Mediation can be undertaken at very short notice (e.g. 24 hours in emergency mediation) unlike arbitration and litigation (which are arguably unfeasible in one transfer window).

•  Mediation is a far less costly, time-consuming, complicated and arduous process than that of arbitration (typically used in football disputes) and litigation.

•  Mediation enables a resolution/settlement to be agreed quickly (even in a matter of hours) by the parties to allow them to move forward and conclude a transaction where time is limited.

•  Mediation is a totally confidential process for the parties in dispute (unless they jointly allow for disclosure) meaning that the dispute or settlement may not even be known to many (including rivals and the football authorities).

•  Mediation if undertaken correctly, provides for legally enforceable settlement agreements.

Hopefully with that somewhat brief (if not crude) summary of mediation, it highlights the huge potential for mediation in a football transfer window.

Resolving disputes quickly, cost effectively and confidentially without the need for anyone to pass judgement and ultimately allowing for business to be completed and in the interests of all parties to a transaction/transfer.