When a player has a release clause (also known as a buyout clause) in their contract, it means they can leave a club after the agreed fee has been met.
A release clause is valid for a certain period of time. Or after a certain number of years in a contract have lapsed.
Sometimes, they are events that trigger clauses. Relegation perhaps, or when a specific period of time within the contract’s duration has been reached.
So there are many variations to release clauses in football and in their fundamental sense they are feared. This is because they leave clubs powerless to resist players being snatched away if activated. But, that’s one perspective the other is that they can be a good thing for selling clubs.
Why do players have a release clause?
In Spain, a release clause is compulsory. All La Liga players have them and many of those are so ridiculously valued.
For instance, Karim Benzema’s release clause with Real Madrid is reported to be €1 billion. No one is likely to pay that amount of money. It’s only there because it has to be.
Elsewhere such as in the Premier League, it’s really a mechanism by which a player can retain control over their future. It’s a means of ensuring clarity and guarding against broken promises or unrealistic asking prices by selling clubs.
When Erling Haaland left RB Salzburg for Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2020, it was clear he was heading for the very top of his game. Dortmund was merely a stepping stone and well below the level of other clubs that were interested in him at the time such as Manchester United and PSG.
To guard himself, Erling Haaland’s agent, Rafaela Pimenta, included a €60 million release clause that would only become active after 2 years. It meant he was able to further his experience in a major European league without the pressure of an immediate jump from lower-tier football in Austria to the Champions League. And also without making himself a prisoner of his own talent.
He moved to Manchester City ahead of the 22/23 season after the Premier League club threatened to trigger his release clause. Had he not done that, Dortmund may have asked for a price three or four times higher.
Erling Haaland is a good example of how release clauses help guard and protect a player’s career progress.
Although release clauses are good for players, they also come with their own downsides. If a player has a release clause, it limits their agency. This means they are unable to reject offers beyond a certain value.
Above all, there’s no negotiation and no potential for other suitors to create an auction. Also, the selling club has little control over a sale taking place. In 2013, Borussia Dortmund found out that Mario Gotze was leaving for Bayern Munich midway through their incredible Champions League run in which they eventually lost in the final.
Why is a release clause becoming popular for selling clubs?
For the selling clubs, release clauses are also becoming popular due to some benefits they present.
Here are some of them;
1. A release clause gives notice that a player will be leaving the club
Firstly, a release clause gives advance notice that a player will be leaving the club. Upon allowing such a clause in the contract, any sensible club would immediately begin preparing for the departure of that player.
In 2021, RB Leipzig lost Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahim Konate to Bayern Munich and Liverpool respectively. Whilst their departures were announced in the 2nd half of the season, tellingly, Leipzig had already announced the signing of Josko Gvardiol from Dinamo Zagreb earlier. And, the addition of Mohammed Simakan from FC Strasbourg.
Leipzig knew what they would be losing and they immediately secured two instant starters long before pre-season even began.
2. A release clause helps the club spend its transfer budget wisely
Another advantage of a release clause is budgetary. Of course, the bigger the sale the better, but if an important player has a predefined value, then his replacement process can start earlier and might be as well expedited in a way that saves the selling club a lot of money.
In the summer of 2021, Man City offered Aston Villa £100 million for Jack Grealish to activate his release clause. The deal would be completed in August. Aston Villa were then able to sign Emi Beundia who joined from Norwich City, Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen, and Danny Ings from Southampton, all for £83 million.
These signings certainly helped calm a fanbase that would otherwise have been unhappy. And more importantly, with a clear idea of how much Grealish was going to be sold for, Villa knew how much they could spend.
3. A release clause avoids disruptions caused by a player wanting to leave
In situations where a player has no release clause and is not for sale, clubs become unrealistic. They hold out hope of convincing a player to stay, then see him depart late in the window.
They then condense the process of replacing the player into whatever time they have left. And, often with less efficient results.
A good example is Tottenham in the summer of 2008. The North London club spent the entire window convincing Dimitar Berbatov to remain at the club against his will. He was eventually sold, on the very last day of the transfer window receiving £30 million from Manchester United.
With no time left, the best they were able to do was take Frazier Campbell on loan as part of the Berbatov deal. Campbell had never scored a Premier League goal and had just a handful of appearances in the English top flight.
Tottenham’s resistance eventually made a bad situation worse.
In conclusion, release clauses make everything black and white for both the player and the club. They ensure less time is consumed by melodrama. The result is often a cleaner, quicker process that’s very much in the interest of both the player and the selling club.
In fact, if handled correctly, a release clause is a means of ensuring that new eras begin before old ones come to an end.