By Ridge Mahoney
It took a statement from MLS commissioner Don Garber to confirm what had been painfully obvious from the get-go in the Camilo-to-Queretaro mess: claims of confusion over an option clause in Camilo’s contract that caused him and his agent to believe he was a free agent were a smokescreen, plain and simple.
He and his agent -- clandestinely it must be said but that’s how things function sometimes in the global player market –- found a club, Queretaro in the Mexican league, that wanted him badly enough to pay him big money to play and a hefty sum to acquire. The transfer fee will likely be in the range of $2 million and a salary of more than $1 million has been reported.
It will cost Queretaro more. The club knows FIFA could impose a fine for negotiating a deal with a player already under contract to another club, and the worldwide governing body could also fine the league and Mexican soccer association if MLS and U.S. Soccer file a complaint and other paperwork. But “confusion?” Give me a break.
Had confusion been the issue, Camilo and his agent would have apologized immediately and arranged to get his Brazilian butt back to Vancouver or somewhere else where the situation could be discussed. The only confusion here was in their misleading the press, which should have known better than to peddle the story spun an agent willing to pull this scam in the first place. As the days passed and Camilo stayed in Mexico, references to the option “confusion” kept re-appearing even as the Whitecaps’ brass steadfastly maintained the club had retained his rights.
Yes, a team can own a players’ rights, but his heart and soul and mindset are his own, and once a team loses those, it’s game over. He posed in a Queretaro jersey long before anybody on the Whitecaps knew what was going on. Do MLS and the Whitecaps have any recourse that can get him back? Not really.
Technically, he’s breached his contract, but practically, he’s gone.
The situation triggered speculation from pundits and journalists that FIFA would investigate the propriety of option clauses, since FIFA doesn’t specifically authorize them in its statutes regarding contracts and player movement. To read a few reports, you’d think the entire MLS contractual system could come crashing down regarding its use of option clauses.
Uh, no. Use of contract options have been part of American sports leagues for decades and FIFA’s policy is not to meddle in contractual matters that have been upheld in U.S. courts and/or negotiated between respective parties. MLS contracts qualify on both counts and by engaging in collective bargaining with the league office through its union, the players accede to the conditions in those contracts.
FIFA’s aversion to legal battles in foreign courts is well-founded. It simply maintains that if laws are not being violated, it has no standing. And for the most start it stays out of domestic matters.
As an example, trades during the MLS season often occur outside the transfer window and technically should be covered by FIFA statutes, as would domestic loans that are common in many countries. And FIFA does regard loans as they were transfers, and as such, an international loan would have to jibe with the international transfer windows.
But domestic loans, like trades, are not so restricted and thus, neither are trades. MLS can set its own schedule for discoveries, trades, etc., without regard to FIFA mandates other than the primary and secondary transfer windows set by the national FAs.
Now, the Camilo case stinks, big-time. But this has happened before. A Brazilian midfielder, Francisco Lima, played out the 2008 MLS season and was under contract for 2009, but simply walked away and told the Quakes he wanted to play for an Italian lower-division team. Weeks turned into months, and finally San Jose just gave up and released his international transfer certificate. The Quakes could have filed a complaint and sought a suspension to prevent him from playing but that could take months to resolve.
The league office and Garber will be answering a lot of questions in the next few months regarding its heavy investment in the Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley transfers, among other issues. But in the cases of Camilo and its use of contract options, those ships have sailed.