Manchester United (‘Man Utd') player, Cristiano Ronaldo (‘Ronaldo'), has been a fantastic player for Man Utd over the years and his transfer to the club was seen as the second coming by Man Utd and its fans. However, Ronaldo has possibly brought his relationship with the club to an end following his interview with Piers Morgan on the TV programme – Piers Morgan Uncensored.
Whether Ronaldo's comments were deliberate or not, Man Utd is now considering its legal position and is taking advice before making any official statement in response.
This article looks at the background to this dispute, Man Utd's potential legal options and what the next steps might be.
Piers Morgan Interview
It is unclear at this stage whether Ronaldo's two-part interview with Piers Morgan was undertaken with or without the consent of Man Utd. However, Ronaldo eviscerated Man Utd and its training facilities, the club's young players, former manager, Ralf Rangnick, as well as the current manager, Erik ten Hag. He also took aim at former players, Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville.
As a consequence, Erik Ten Hag has reportedly told the directors at Man Utd that Ronaldo should never play for the team again following his comments made in the Piers Morgan interview.
Problems during employment are best dealt with as swiftly and informally as possible. However, given that Man Utd has announced publically that it is taking advice on its legal position, it is clear that matters have now escalated beyond an informal chat.
To protect its rights under and in connection with the employment contract, and to discharge its employment law obligations (where Ronaldo has sufficient continuity of service for protection from unfair dismissal), Man Utd will firstly need to determine the appropriate process to be followed in view of his actions. Its starting point may be an investigation carried out in line with its disciplinary process.
Standard Form Contract –Express Terms
In this context (taking any other image rights/commercial contracts aside), Ronaldo will have signed a Premier League standard form employment contract (‘Standard Form Contract') that has been collectively bargained for by the Professional Footballers' Association. The express terms set out in the Standard Form Contract includes clause 3.2, which states:
“The Player agrees that he shall not:
3.2.5 – knowingly or recklessly do, write or say anything or omit to do anything which is likely to bring the Club or the game of football into disrepute, cause the Player or the Club to be in breach of the Rules or cause damage to the Club or its officers or employees or any match official”.
Clause 10 of the Standard Form Contract then deals with termination of employment by the club. Specifically, it states:
“10.1 The Club shall be entitled to terminate the employment of the Player by 14 days' notice in writing to the Player if the Player:
10.1.1 shall be guilty of Gross Misconduct;
10.1.2 shall fail to heed any final written warning given under the provisions of Part1 of Schedule 1 hereto.”
Gross Misconduct is defined in the Standard Form Contract:
“Gross Misconduct” shall mean serious or persistent conduct behaviour activity or omission by the Player involving one or more of the following:
(a) theft or fraud;
(b) deliberate and serious damage to the Club's property;
(c) use or possession of or trafficking in a Prohibited Substance;
(d) incapacity through alcohol affecting the Player's performance as a player;
(e)breach of or failure to comply with of any of the terms of this contract,
or such other similar or equivalent serious or persistent conduct behaviour activity or omission by the Player which the Board reasonably considers to amount to gross misconduct;
The above sets out the written or ‘express' terms of the Standard Form Contract.
To the extent Man Utd may not be adequately protected by the express terms agreed with Ronaldo, it may also be able to rely on certain terms which are implied by law into an employment contract. A breach of an implied term may be enforced by an employer as if the term was included expressly in the contract.
Man Utd may be assisted by the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence, the duty (on Ronaldo) to be ready and willing to work and/or the duty to obey lawful and reasonable orders.
Contractual and Statutory Rights
Man Utd will need to follow a reasonable process before applying any sanction on Ronaldo, to avoid claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal, or for breach of the employment contract (or one of the related commercial contracts).
In the circumstances, Man Utd will likely consider whether Ronaldo's conduct amounts to misconduct and whether a fair dismissal may be achievable on that basis, which requires the decision maker to possess a genuine belief in their decision following a reasonable investigation, and the employer to consider any mitigation.
A further or alternative route for the club may be to consider whether Ronaldo's actions may justify his dismissal for the potentially fair reason of ‘some other substantial reason', as has been a route for some employers in the past in circumstances of irreconcilable differences, a breakdown in trust and confidence and reputational risk.
In addition, there are other issues that Man Utd will need to consider in this dispute. Firstly, Ronaldo generates millions in revenue for the club via endorsements, sponsorship deals and other commercial benefits. Secondly, Man Utd will no doubt have entered into image rights and other commercial deals with Ronaldo that would need to be terminated should the club decide to end his contract of employment.
The termination of Ronaldo's employment contract would see the club having to cease these agreements on short notice, thereby exposing the club to millions of pounds in lost revenue from these commercial deals.
Furthermore, Ronaldo is reputedly being paid £480,000 per week and his employment contract is due to continue until 30 June 2023. This will amount to around £11,500,000 in salary. Nonetheless, Man Utd may encounter real problems in trying to recoup some or any of this money as few clubs will be willing to pay these sums to take Ronaldo given that he will be a free agent in around 7 months when his employment contract expires.
In all likelihood, Man Utd will wait until Qatar World Cup is finished before taking any further action. However, it's no coincidence that this public fall out has come just as Ronaldo is due to appear on the biggest stage of all – the World Cup. This is then followed by the January 2023 transfer window.
In any event, Man Utd has been placed in a difficult position whether it decides to terminate Ronaldo's contract early for gross misconduct or wait and see what the January 2023 transfer window brings.
Ronaldo has come out publically stating that “…in my life, the best timing is always my timing”. Well, it's quite clear that his time with Man Utd is coming to an end and a parting of the ways is almost inevitable. All that remains is whether Man Utd or Ronaldo dictate the manner and timing of his departure from the club.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.