Mark Clattenburg swaps the Premier League for Saudi Arabia

Mark Clattenburg announced yesterday that he has resigned from his position as a Premier League referee to take up a new role in the Middle East for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). Mr Clattenburg had been part of the “Select Group” of elite referees in England for a number of years and his departure marks the first high profile referee to leave the Premier League to officiate abroad. A couple of legal points in the wake of this announcement worth bearing in mind:

How is Mr Clattenburg’s resignation possible midway through the season?

The Premier League’s transfer window (or “registration period” as it is described in the FIFA Regulations) closed at the end of January and won’t open again now until 1 July. However, the restrictions only apply to the transfer of players. As has been the case since the transfer window was compulsorily introduced by FIFA for the 2002-2003 season, coaches and managers have been free to move outside of the transfer windows and referees unsurprisingly also fall outside these transfer restrictions. As a result, subject to Mr Clattenburg giving his employer the required notice under his employment contract, his move is able to take place immediately.

What sort of compensation can the Professional Game Match Officials Board expect?

Premier League referees are some of the highest paid referees in world football so what type of transaction fee might have been payable to secure Mr Clattenburg’s services? Actually, probably not that much. His employment contract was with the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB), a body which represents top-flight referees in England and provides match officials for all games in the Premier League, the Football League and FA Cup competitions. The referees on PGMOB’s “premier league panel” command a salary comprised of an annual retainer fee plus an additional match fee for each match officiated. As referees are not tied down to long term, multi-year contracts like football players, the likelihood is that Mr Clattenburg would have only been required to buy out the remainder of his annual retainer for the 2016-2017 season (and SAAF may have even agreed to pay this for him by way of a “golden hello” in his new employment contract). All things considered, not bad business for the services of a referee who officiated the Champions League Final and the European Championship Final last year, and with speculation in the media that the deal offered by SAFF to Mr Clattenburg may be worth as much as £500k a year tax free, not a bad deal for “Clatts” either!

As to what this means for how PGMOB contract with their high profile referees moving forwards and whether this move marks the beginning of a migration of European football’s top officials to richer climbs remains to be seen, but it is without doubt an interesting and landmark development in world football.