Du Malone writes: This post is the first in a series dealing with the topics of contracts, their negotiation, and agents. The post explores the question of how to think about contracts in general.

Conception of contracts

The content I’ve read suggests that FMers sometimes think of contracts under the rubric of ‘Admin’.

Which is understandable: contracts on FM are, after all, documents — and their appearance, with a multitude of terms and clauses, gives them a strongly bureaucratic feel.

But there are reasons to suspect that thinking of contracts as ‘admin’ might not produce the best results.

The problem of admin

Using that term makes contracts sound boring. That in turn can encourage managers to put off dealing with contracts — often to the end of the season — and then to spend as little time on them as possible.

I’ve learnt at my own expense that rushing contract negotiations is likely to prove a self-defeating behaviour.

Thinking of contracts as ‘admin’ also encourages the view that contracts aren’t central to the business of playing FM. Matches, players, tactics are likely seen as central, whereas contracts may be seen as, at best, tedious necessities.

Alternative approach

An alternative conception is to think of contracts as behavioural tool-kits. Each component of a contract constitute a potential influence on the player, or member of staff, concerned.

There are many influences on players’ behaviours. They include tactical revisions, training, team talks, touchline shouts, and so on. We don’t think of such things as ‘admin’: each of these represents a behavioural tool. It’s the same with contracts.

When I think of examples, from my own saves, of contractual influence on behaviour, the following loom particularly large:

  • The goals per season clause can help to stretch players. For example, I often give strikers a bonus for every 5 goals they score in a season (so, say, at the 5,10, 15, and 20 landmarks). I’ve often noticed that, especially at the business end of a season, this seems to motivate strikers to add to their tally.
  • Clean sheet bonuses won’t guarantee clean sheets — if a team is terrible at defending, no amount of bonuses will do that — but they do make them more likely.

Achieving your targets

Since the board will hold you accountable for meeting the expectations that they’ve set, why not use the board’s money to help you meet them?

To me, that seems common sense. If, for example, a target is to reach the third round of a cup, then I will incentivise players, and some staff, by offering them a bonus for achieving that target. I can’t really think of an argument not to do so.


There are two common reasons why managers might fail to fully exploit the behavioural potential of contracts.

Consider the following examples of the kind of things a manager might be prone to think during a contract negotiation:

  • “I’m not giving my striker a goal bonus: scoring goals is his job”
  • “I’m not paying him a bonus for being an unused sub: why should somebody get paid for just sitting a the bench?”

There are, depending on the context, potentially two problems here.

The first is a confusion between ‘ought’ and ‘is’. That is, behind both bases lurk moral arguments: the striker shouldn’t need a goal bonus, he should do his level best to score anyway; sitting on a bench doesn’t involve any effort, so shouldn’t be rewarded.

But in each case the question that matters is not what should be the case: it’s what will (or is likely ) to be the case.

If the inclusion of a goal incentivises a striker to score more goals (which, after all, is the merest common sense) and, as a result, he does so, who cares about the moral basis? Wouldn’t you welcome the outcome?

And supposing the player isn’t getting much game time — perhaps not as much as he expects. If the unused sub bonus helps to keep him (and perhaps the agent) content and so makes it easier to retain his services, who cares whether the player has done anything more strenuous than a warm-up?

So the first obstacle to the effective use of incentives is moralism. The second is an over-zealousness to play hard-ball. Behind the quotations I’ve given above there may be a desire to display toughness.

For example: “I’m no soft-touch, you know. If you think I’m going to give you money for just sitting on your backside, you can think again, sunshine. Players in my squad have to earn their money: they don’t get owt for nowt.”

Well, sometimes you do have to play hard-ball. The problem is that doing so habitually can all too easily blind you to the benefits of spending money.

In the above examples, offering incentives might buy behaviours that you desire to have. If demonstrating machismo loses you the benefits of those behaviours — well, that’s self-defeating.

(A prominent theme in this series, by the way, is that testosterone rushes often make for inefficient negotiation)


‘The benefits of spending money”: yes, that’s right — I did just write that. The rational objective of contract negotiations in general isn’t necessarily to minimise outlay: it is to achieve good value.

Typically, the question for each outlay is, “If I offer this, what are we likely to get for the money? And how good a return on investment would that be?”

Next in the series: What is the secret of contract? Timing!

Previous post in the series: Series introduction

Image credit: ‘Contracts’ by Credit Score Guide, generously made available under a CC BY 2.0 licence.

3 thoughts on “Approaching contracts in FM

  1. Interesting.. I never really thought of these clauses (especially the unused sub) in this way. I have seen studies saying that money is not good enough of a motivator (real-life, that is) and it is not the most important for me personally. These probably spill over into FM for me, but it´s an interesting new perspective. I could try it, I´m usually one for decreasing bonuses and clauses (except for high match appearance for players I don´t plan on playing much :p)


    1. Thank you. I picked out a few clauses there that I happen to use a lot. I’ve organised the planned posts into four parts: the third will look at some other clauses in detail. Your comment about motivation is interesting. From the HR literature that I’m aware of I think the relationship between money and motivation is quite complex. Perhaps it’s simpler in FM, which seems to be modelled on Microeconomics 101? I’m also wondering whether we sometimes miss the incentivisation aspect of contracts on FM simply because we’re playing the game as amateurs (in more than one sense)?


      1. Yes, I believe that your point about us being amateurs is valid in the game in general. I would really love to get some good insights from people in professional football who play FM.

        Liked by 1 person

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