Football Leaks, the football whistleblowing site, in conjunction with the Sunday Times, has released the results of an extensive investigation that, amongst other things, reveals a ‘good behaviour’ clause in Mario Balotelli’s 2014 Liverpool FC contract.
The clause is reported to read:
“If during each season of the term of this contract the player is not dismissed from the field of play on three or more occasions for violent conduct, spitting at an opponent or any other person, for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures and/or for dissent by word or action . . . then on the 30th June at the end of each season he shall receive a bonus payment of £1 million.”
Clauses in player contracts that incentivise performance are common, such as bonuses for appearances, assists and goals. In fact, Balotelli is also reported to have a £50,000 bonus for every goal scored after an initial five (in the Premier League and UEFA Europa League).
Rewarding a player for not spitting or generally being offensive on the pitch is certainly a more novel provision but it is obvious what Liverpool were trying to achieve. Mario Balotelli is a player that many know for being a naturally gifted footballer who has been regularly embroiled in controversy.
Sports Shorts covered morality clauses in the context of two sports personalities, Maria Sharapova and Sergio Perez, and their commercial relationships with their sponsors. These kinds of contracts often contain a provision that allow one party to terminate the agreement if some form of controversial behaviour is committed by the other party, whether inside or outside the sporting arena.
It is not clear how effective this ‘good behaviour’ clause was, and there are questions over whether it achieved the desired effect. In December 2014 (four months after signing for Liverpool) Balotelli was suspended for one match and fined £25,000 for an anti-Semitic tweet. However, there may be arguments that the clause is restricted to the player’s misbehaviour on “the field of play” and on “three or more occasions”. As such, it could be argued that he would still have been in line to receive his £1 million bonus.
The other question concerns incentives. Balotelli often cut a solemn figure at Liverpool and was frequently criticised for his low work rate. The leak points to two bonus structures (it is likely that there were more) – a good behaviour bonus and a goal bonus. In order for Balotelli to earn the same amount of money through the latter, he would have had to score 20 goals on top of an initial five – an impressive feat for any striker. By comparison, he could earn £1 million simply by staying out of trouble on the pitch.
Balotelli is now back on form after departing Liverpool for Nice having scored 6 goals in 6 appearances in Ligue 1. It is noteworthy that he has also received 5 yellow cards and 1 red in all competitions. This raises the question – to what extent can contractual provisions and incentives effectively control players like Mario Balotelli? Perhaps clubs have to accept that some players come with excess baggage and it is oftentimes just that which makes them great.