Sheffield Wednesday report Newcastle United to the Premier League

Posted in Football Employment, labor and pensions Dispute resolution, litigation and investigations

Co-author: Tom Maturi

Steve Bruce was recently appointed the new head coach of Newcastle United F.C., but not without some controversy. His previous employer, Sheffield Wednesday F.C., has reported Newcastle United to the Premier League in relation to the appointment. The clubs had reportedly been in negotiations regarding the potential move by Bruce to Newcastle United, however the parties had failed to agree on the compensation to be paid by Newcastle United to Sheffield Wednesday.

On July 15, 2019, Bruce resigned from his role at Sheffield Wednesday and, two days later, he was appointed at Newcastle United. Sheffield Wednesday claims it is still owed compensation in relation to the move. Bruce and Newcastle United, however, maintain that they acted lawfully and that Newcastle United had triggered the release clause in Bruce’s contract that would allow him to leave. The specifics of Bruce’s one-year rolling contract with Sheffield Wednesday and the negotiations between the clubs are largely unknown. However, it has been reported that an amount of money has already been paid in compensation to Sheffield Wednesday, but that this amount is less than the sum Sheffield Wednesday believes it is entitled to.

In light of this, Sheffield Wednesday has reported Newcastle United to the Premier League over the appointment of Bruce. The EFL regulations contain an overriding duty for clubs to act “towards each other Club and The League with the utmost good faith”[1], whilst the Premier League also has rules governing the ways in which clubs can make approaches for managers under contract.  For instance, Rule J3 of the Premier League rules states that:

“no Club shall directly or indirectly induce or attempt to induce any Player, Manager, assistant manager, head coach or other senior first team football coach of another Club (or Football League club) to terminate a contract of employment with that other Club (or Football League club) (whether or not by breach of that contract) or directly or indirectly approach any such employee with a view to offering employment without the consent of that other Club (or Football League club)”[2].

Irrespective of Premier League rules, if Bruce left Sheffield Wednesday in breach of his contract of employment, he would be at risk of a breach of contract action through the courts and Newcastle United would be at risk of tortious liability if it can be shown to have induced that breach of contract.

This recent episode is not the first time that Bruce has faced controversy when moving between clubs either. In 2001, Bruce attempted to resign from Crystal Palace F.C. and then immediately take a job at Birmingham City F.C less than a year into his contract with Crystal Palace. In this instance, however, Crystal Palace refused his resignation, claiming that he had failed to give sufficient notice. Crystal Palace continued to honor the contract, placing Bruce on gardening leave, and sought a high court injunction to prevent any move. The club was successful in obtaining such an injunction and within a month of Bruce’s attempted resignation, Crystal Palace agreed that Bruce could leave for Birmingham City, presumably for a higher compensation fee.

This recent case draws attention to the legal challenges that can arise regarding football managers’ employment contracts, which certainly seem to remain less regulated and less standardized than players’ contracts in English football. As a result, clubs are including a range of different clauses into their managers’ employment contracts, which can vary significantly between clubs. These factors may lead to a general increase in legal disputes relating to managerial moves in the future and it will be interesting to see whether the Premier League decides to address this issue and include further protections within its regulations.

With thanks to first step scheme student Daniel Davidson for his assistance in preparing this blog.

[1] Section 2, Regulation 3.4, EFL Regulations.

[2] Rule J.3, Premier League Rules 2019/20.

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