Last week, FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber answered a question many had been wondering about since they rejected Crossfire Premier’s claim for solidarity payments against Tottenham Hotspur for the transfer of DeAndre Yedlin in 2015: Why did they find Crossfire’s claim to be invalid?
It turns out they didn’t.
The 11-page ruling actually found that the youth development academy had a perfectly legitimate claim to collect the estimated $100,000 in solidarity fees when the former Seattle Sounder was sold in 2015. However, Spurs got off on something of a technicality.
Crossfire originally petitioned FIFA’s DRC back in 2015 after unsuccessfully requesting the solidarity fees from Spurs. Initially, Spurs were receptive to Crossfire’s claim, even going so far as to request Crossfire’s bank account information to facilitate the transfer of the solidarity payment. Eventually, however, Spurs sent the entire transfer fee (which they claimed was inclusive of solidarity payments) to MLS at the direction of the league and US Soccer.
That’s where Crossfire ran into a problem with the DRC.
In defense of the claim, Spurs offered several reasons why they should not have to pay, including that Crossfire as a pay-to-play academy should not be allowed to double-dip by taking fees from youth players, and profiting from them when they sign overseas. That defense was flatly rejected by the DRC. Similarly, Spurs also claimed that US Soccer’s history of shoddy record keeping of player records precluded the claim. The DRC was satisfied with Yedlin’s records (as opposed to Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who it is believed had no player records).
However, the DRC determined that because Spurs relied in good faith on the representations of MLS and US Soccer that solidarity payments and training compensation were illegal and not recognized in the United States, it would be unfair to order the Premier League team to in effect pay the solidarity fee twice. “(T)he Chamber was of the opinion that the Respondent relied on the representations made by the above-mentioned bodies (USSF & MLS) and could assume therefore, in good faith, that it would not be obliged to pay any amount on top of the full transfer fee,” the ruling said.
So Crossfire has a ruling in their favor essentially, but it’s unclear how it will be enforced, at least at this point. The DRC ruling did not specify who, if anyone, was at fault. “Even though we have this ruling, we don’t know what US Soccer wants to do going forward,” Lance Reich, attorney for Crossfire said.
While MLS has now essentially fully embraced the FIFA mandate on this issue, US Soccer intends to remain neutral. The ruling seems to open up the ability of youth academies to obtain solidarity payments and training compensation when players sign or are transferred overseas. Assuming the federation does not work to oppose the claims, youth academies will be able to obtain the payments as players move.
That doesn’t help Crossfire recover the $100,000 in this case however. Reich said he will attempt to collect from MLS, the Federation or both. “Crossfire is a simple case at this point; it’s knock on the door of US Soccer and MLS and, ‘you guys pay us the solidarity fee that you collected,’” Reich said. It’s certainly possible he could sue, though he said he is hopeful that this can be resolved amicably by way of a meeting between the parties.
Reich also indicated he may appeal the ruling insofar as it would be helpful to clarify who is at fault for the information which led Spurs to pay the wrong party (as the buying club, they are responsible for seeing the payment makes it to the proper parties). If successful and the DRC judges MLS as the responsible party, Crossfire could request that the Federation enforce the judgment and force MLS to pay (lest they be subject to sanctions). Crossfire has 21 days to appeal from the date they received the ruling, which expires on or about July 4.
That again presents a problem if the Federation maintains their neutral stance. The Federation could risk the ire of both MLS and the MLS Players Association, who remain adamantly opposed to solidarity payments and training compensation. While the MLSPA has said they will not sue directly, they have indicated they will support a lawsuit on this issue if one is filed.
As to the Federation’s role specifically going forward, Reich would like to see them set aside a fund to compensate youth academy teams who are unable to collect payments due to the lack of record keeping on older players such at Dempsey and Bradley. “In the cases where you [US Soccer] can’t give us a player passport ... it may not necessarily [be] dollar for dollar,” Reich said. “They would be okay with some sort of global fund to [compensate] claims because US Soccer didn’t comply with rules.”