Grigor Pasha writes: Exploration of online content (especially podcasts) on football management suggest that there is a common assumption that contracts are not where it’s at.

Players, transfers, tactics: yes, they attract attention.

But contracts, no. They seem to be consigned to the mental category of ‘admin’. Boring. Merely clerical.

To any manager who thinks like that, I say: Go home! You’re an amateur!

Essentials

There are four essential points to be born in mind when dealing with player contracts, as follows.

  1. The most important: contracts are a way of affecting players psychology and behaviour. Incentivise people — and avoid disincentivising people. For example, if you want to be really tight at the back, award massive bonuses for clean sheets. Note that, at least tome some extent, these will be self-financing: clean sheets > points > success > revenue. But if you want one of your defenders to get forward, go easy on the clean sheet bonus. One of my favourite incentives is the reward for scoring a certain number of goals per season. Providing a reward for a forward for a small number of goals can be useful in negotiations: the player may regard the reward as so probable that they count it virtually as a form of wage. A further stretch target can (I’ve observed this effect so often!) lead them to scoring in crucial end of season matches. I heard one podcaster say, Why do I want to reward a striker for scoring goals? — he should be doing that anyway. To which I reply: think about it. Another example of psychological modification concerns bonuses for being a sub. I heard another podcaster say, ‘Why do I want to reward someone just for sitting on the bench?’ Well, it incentivises them to get fit and train well, to force their way into the match squad. And if they’re expecting to play more than you think they actually will, bench bonuses may be a way of keeping them (and their agents) happy. As I say, just think about it.
  2. Contracts should be context dependent. For example, if you’re worried about relegation, give a heart bonuses for avoiding that fate. Even if you think you won’t be in a dog fight, it may be worth putting something in that line: if the player regards relegation avoidance as probable, they may reckon such a bonus as a form of wage; and they are likely to want to achieve that bonus asap, helping to push you up the table.
  3. Contracts should be relative to personality. For example, if you have a player who is ambitious but who you think isn’t a star, consider giving them a bonus for making team of the year or winning a cap: they might value the bonus more than the club does — in other words, they might think they stand to gain, whereas in fact you’re unlikely to pay out.
  4. Contracts should be aligned to your board’s expectations. If they expect you to reach, say, the third round of the cup, award players with bonuses for doing so — perhaps a bonus for each of the first three rounds. in other words, outsource the responsibility for reaching your targets to your players. (Ditto, staff.)

Favourites

Two ploys I use a lot are:

  1. Offering, even when the player doesn’t ask for it, a small percentage of a sell-on fee. This can prove useful when you want to ship a player out.
  2. Including an optional extension clause. Even if you have to grant slightly higher wages for this, the flexibility it provides in terms of squad management can be valuable. After all, the future is unknown.

Summary

Overall, player contracts represent an opportunity — ‘requirement’ may be a better word — to think creatively.

But, as I say, if you want to continue to regard player contracts as nothing more than an administrative chore, amateur leagues are available.

Du Malone writes: This is the fifth post in Grigor’s ‘football and stakeholder management’ series. The others are here:

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