Firms may see work from football clubs flowing back as strict FIFA rules kick in

Arsenal FC may be used to signing players from overseas, but its lawyers come from much closer to home. The club is only four miles from the offices of Slaughter and May, its main adviser for matters such as player transfers and Stan Kroenke’s takeover bid last year.

The firm has been carrying out less work for Arsenal in recent years, not least because the club has developed its in-house legal team. Svenja Geissmar joined as general counsel in 2009 from MTV following a trend set by Manchester City, which hired Shearman & Sterling corporate associate Simon Cliff as legal chief earlier that year.

Relationship partners Nigel Boardman and Andrew Jolly are always at the end of a phone, but Arsenal is now capable of handling the bulk of transfer deals itself.

What has not changed, however, is the firm’s policy of seconding lawyers to the club. In particular, it continues to send associates to fill gaps when in-housers are absent for extended periods.

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom is thought to have seconded people to Chelsea FC, where Europea head Bruce Buck is chairman. Berwin Leighton Paisner has considered seconding associates to clubs and regulators such as the Football Association (FA) and the Premier League, but has not done so yet. Some firms have seconded staff to clubs and never got them back.

Secondments are only worth it if a firm sees investment opportunities. The strategy is expensive, and with banks making huge demands sports practices are not left with much room. Football clubs are demanding too, with most operating a thin management but holding a high level of risk. Fees reflect this client power.

The FA and the Premier League, meanwhile, are potentially more lucrative clients, with DLA Piper understood to have deployed a secondee to the latter.

But with clubs having to get onside with FIFA Financial Fair Play rules on liquidity and transfer deals frequently involving complex performance-related fee structures, things might change with respect to the giants of the game.

Joshua Freedman