The Camilo Affair, the Legality, and the Morality

By Benjamin Massey

January 6th, 2014 · 26 comments

It remains to be seen whether Camilo’s bolting on his contract will be found legal. But we can tell right now whether we should find it moral.

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

Benjamin Massey/Maple Leaf Forever!

I’ll admit it, I’m surprised. I thought it was all RUMMOR and hot air but no, it looks like Camilo is off to Mexico after all. ESPN’s Paty Fernández tweeted a photo of Camilo proudly holding his new Querétaro shirt[1] after, as Marc Weber pointed out[2], Camilo’s agent Tweeted Fernández from Querétaro asking if they could talk[3].

We don’t know for sure what’s happened, but it looks like Camilo has broken his contract, on which the Whitecaps already announced they were exercising their option[4], and has fled for the border like many a crook before.

There have been questions raised about the legality of team options in soccer. If Camilo is going to try and pull a Jean-Marc Bosman and rewrite contract practice then he’s a brave man; team options are so deeply entrenched a part of MLS that one doubts they’d roll over at a challenge. Yet, and as a Whitecaps fan I hate to admit it, Camilo does have a leg to stand on. There have been issues with “unilateral options” in soccer before, most of which went the player’s way. I am, to an almost unbelievable extent, not a lawyer, but I tried to do some reading. I welcome informed criticism on all these points.

One volume I found partially available online, CAS and Football: Landmark Cases edited by Alexander Wild, a lawyer at the German firm Dr. Falkenstein & Partner, gives some details. I’m going off the Google Books preview here; I hope you’ll understand if I don’t drop $112 for your sake. The authors, at least in Chapter 5 pertaining to “unilateral options”, seem biased in favour of players and I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but they look honest and provide good factual information with informed analysis. The Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) “has been relatively hostile to [unilateral option] clauses, though it has not ruled them out completely.”[5] “No unilateral option had ever been declared absolutely void under all circumstances.”[6]. In the case of Sotirios Kyrgiakos of Pananthinaikos, for example, the CAS ruled in Pananthinaikos’s favour, saying that Kyrgiakos’s team option was valid. Kyrgiakos received a significant pay increase in his option year, accepted Pananthinaikos exercising an earlier team option, and had only complained the next time when he had better career prospects. This is reportedly the only case in which the CAS and FIFA Dispute Resolution Committee both ruled in favour of upholding a unilateral option[7]. But, of course, that ignores any unilateral options which never got that far, and isn’t wholly consistent with the Almirón case, discussed below.

There are a few cases of unilateral options being rejected: FIFPro lists some on their website[8], though they obviously have a very vested interest and their seemingly-blanket assurance that “this case is not valid” seems at odds with precedent. The most famous, and most clear cut, example, is the so-called “Bueno-Rodríguez case”. This refers to two Uruguayan players, Carlos Bueno and Cristian Rodríguez, under contract to Club Atlético Peñarol. Peñarol attempted to exercise an option on the two players who wished for higher pay, the players refused to accept this, and after rulings by the FIFA DRC and the CAS the players were found to be free agents (Bueno now plays in Argentina, Rodríguez with Atlético Madrid).

The similarities between the Bueno-Rodríguez case and Camilo’s situation are more than skin deep. According to Wild et al the Uruguayan Football Player’s Statute at the time provided that a contract “may be extended by the club until the second 31 December following the date of termination of the initial contract.”[9]. Such two-year team options, often combined with two-year standard deals and known as “2+2 contracts”, are commonplace in MLS. Bueno and Rodríguez were entitled to a raise corresponding to the rate of inflation; since MLS is so secretive we don’t know what Camilo’s raise would have been in his option year, but if it was marginal that’s a bad sign for MLS. Bueno and Rodríguez refused to report to Peñarol, disputing the validity of the unilateral options. The pair were suspended and put on a list of “rebellious” players but Paris Saint-Germain signed them months later, insisting the pair were free agents[10]. The authorities, eventually, agreed, and Peñarol received no compensation. The Uruguayan player’s statute has now been modified[11]. Camilo is still in his off-season so hadn’t walked out as Bruno and Rodríguez did. Therefore he hasn’t been placed on any “rebellious” list, which was a factor against Peñarol in the Bueno-Rodríguez case[12] but ultimately a side issue. In the words of a later paper by Diego F.R. Compaire, Gerardo Planás, and Stefan-Eric Wildemann in 2009, a masters thesis which received an award from FIFA, “unilateral options are in general terms not recognized by FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport unless they incorporate some specific elements which work for the clear and acceptable advantage of the player.”[13].

For example, in the case of Javier Alejandro Almirón vs. Club Atlético Janus, Almirón not only received a 15% per year raise in his contract if the unilateral team option was exercised, he was paid $18,000 in exchange for the club having the right of unilateral extension. When Almirón attempted to break his contract with Janus and join Spain’s Polideportivo Ejido SAD, the FIFA DRC found in favour of Janus and awarded the club $68,000 compensation, as it was clear Almirón knew and understood that he had given Janus the right to extend his contract unilaterally and accepted compensation for that right[14]. Even in this case, Almirón did not return to Janus (which is perhaps why FIFPro lists the Almirón case as an example of an invalid unilateral option; like I said, they have a strong interest in the matter).

So did Camilo receive “specific elements which work for the clear and acceptable advantage of the player” in his contract? If Camilo’s option years were at or near the same pay as his initial contract, MLS might be in trouble under the Bueno-Rodríguez precedent and other, less closely-related cases. But if he received a big raise then the Almirón and Kyrgiakos precedents look promising, though not clear-cut, and it’s unlikely in any event Camilo will ever wear a Whitecaps kit again.

Above all this stands the sheer exceptionality of MLS: it is a soccer league like no other in the world. There is a widely accepted principle in FIFA contract precedent that their rulings apply internationally, even in the face of domestic contract law: this is called lex sportiva. Yet MLS is a very odd bear, with many aspects (players signing contracts with the league rather than teams, drafting, salary cap and contract restrictions, non-guaranteed contracts, etc. etc. ad nauseum) completely at odds with world practice. MLS has a certified players union and signed collective bargaining agreements with the MLSPU in 2004 and 2010. This is, to my knowledge, unique in world soccer, though in line with other North American professional sports, and all told MLS’s characteristics can’t help but mean an unpredictable result.

If Camilo winds up knocking down the whole rotten structure of MLS contract practice then some good will come of this sordid affair after all. To my knowledge MLS’s contract practices have not yet been challenged in arbitration. But that’s a massive “if”, and by keeping quiet until he could bolt in the night, Camilo has done the Whitecaps a serious injury when he should have been negotiating in good faith.

Possibly the Whitecaps, or somebody at the league, failed to exercise Camilo’s team option correctly. Such things do happen: see the 2009 NHL example where Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon forgot to send qualifying offers to his marquee restricted free agents[15]. In that case, because the NHL is a cartel, the Blackhawks more-or-less got away with Tallon’s potentially-franchise-killing blunder. MLS is not so lucky and if the Whitecaps or the league screwed this up then we can expect FIFA to tell them where to shove that contract of theirs. Absent any evidence that is the case, though, any idiotic forum members or Twitterers who blame the Whitecaps for having a star player under contract and not preventing him from dishonouring it with magic mind control rays are invited to stick their faces into a wood chipper.

If things are all as they appear to be then, as a fan, regardless of all legal aspects, I would no longer piss on Camilo if he was on fire. Whether he signed his contract in bad faith, or simply decided to break his word to his club, his fans, and his former comrades when he saw a financial advantage is irrelevant: it is the act of a scoundrel. The Whitecaps have problems, and I’ve written about them at some length. The Alain Rochat debacle, to name just one, is a stain on Whitecaps honour that will not be erased for some time. They need to straighten themselves out in more ways than one; I’m not so naïve to deny that. But that would never excuse Camilo’s lies. Integrity is not optional. A decent human being is not honest only to people he likes or when he isn’t hurt by it. The fact that Camilo is receiving a big payday for his deceit is not justification, it’s further condemnation: in any walk of life we scorn people who lie, dissemble, and betray just to make millions and sports should be no exception. It’s a disgusting attitude from a player who, frankly, I expected better from. If Camilo’s six-digit salary wasn’t enough for him then he was welcome to ask for a transfer or to renegotiate his contract, as he did before the 2012 season. Instead he bolted like a thief in the night, which is an alarmingly appropriate simile.

Suffice to say that, even if legal muscle comes down entirely in the Whitecaps’ favour and Camilo is forced to play out his contract I hope Vancouver pays him to sit at home and eat cheeseburgers, because I don’t want people like that on my team.

At least we don’t have to deal with the argument over whether he should play for Canada anymore.

[1] — Fernández, Paty. “REGALAZO DE REYES! Sanvezzo y Guastavino están en Querétaro realizando exámenes médicos. @espnmx @ESPNdesdeMexico” Via Twitter, January 6, 2014. Accessed January 6, 2014.

[2] — Weber, Marc. “That last retweet was Camilo’s agent (location showing as Queretaro) asking ESPN’s Paty Fernandez if they can talk. #MLS #VWFC.” Via Twitter, January 6, 2014. Accessed January 6, 2014.

[3] — Teixeira, Lucas. “@_paty_fernandez you gustaria de hablar com usted es possible?” Via Twitter, January 6, 2014. Accessed January 6, 2014.

[4] — Vancouver Whitecaps FC. “‘Caps pick up 11 contract options, decline eight.”, November 28, 2013. Accessed January 6, 2014.

[5] — Wild, Alexander ed. CAS and Football: Landmark Cases (The Hague: TMC Asser Press, 2012), 113.

[6] — Wild, 114.

[7] — de Weger, Frans and Thijs Kroese. “The unilateral extension option and the jurisprudence of CAS and DRC.” DRC Database. Accessed January 6, 2014.

[8] — FIFPro. “Legal – Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed January 6, 2014.

[9] — Wild, 117.

[10] — “PSG go for Uruguayans.”, July 20, 2005. Accessed January 6, 2014.

[11] — Wild, 117.

[12] — Wild, 124.

[13] — Compaire, Diego F.R., Geradro Planás, and Stefan-Eric Wildemann. Contractual Stability in Professional Football: Recommendations for Clubs in a Context of International Mobility (July 2009), iii.

[14] — Compaire, 31.

[15] — Dellow, Tyler. “Qualifying Offers and Dany Heatley.” mc79hockey, July 5, 2009. Accessed January 6, 2014.

Comments are closed.

26 responses to “The Camilo Affair, the Legality, and the Morality”

  1. Chris Corrigan says:

    Nice one Ben. And I agree 100% with your reticence to extinguish him in a blaze by even the most dehumanizing of means.

  2. Rituro says:

    And just like that, we go from “wild off-season rumour” to “hero-turned-villain story”. Yikes.

    Question: if CAS ruled in favour of the Whitecaps and gave them a pile of cash, would it go to them as allocation money or go into the general league coffers?

    • Benjamin Massey says:

      I don’t think there’s any precedent to say. Given that Camilo was on an MLS contract, MLS would be the wronged party in a legal sense rather than the Whitecaps, so I imagine the league would probably get the money. Whether they’d pass any of that on to the Whitecaps, and whether it would be in the form of allocation, I guess would be decided when it happened.

  3. Chris Corrigan says:

    I hope we do get compensation for this, but that probably won’t stop the fickle fan brigade from blaming this all on Lenarduzzi if we don’t.

  4. Mike Corbin says:

    Good piece Ben,

    With you being a stat guy I’m wondering if there is any evidence that an MLS team has exercised an option year with
    “some specific elements which work for the clear and acceptable advantage of the player.”

    What I’m getting at is option years are routinely exercised by MLS clubs, is there any evidence that those have passed the legal test which appears to be the basis for your article?

    • Benjamin Massey says:

      That would be hard to work out from publicly available information, but I imagine somebody could at least work out if players see a salary bump in their option years and, if so, what the average percentage is.

      Unfortunately the only way I can think to do that is to look up each option-year contract over the past few seasons and hand-match it to the MLS Players Union compensation sheets, which would take much more time than even I have.

  5. Scott says:

    Aside from putting out fires in Swiftian fashion, yes. This is completely classless. I’m of half a mind to use him as a sub out of spite. He can be the leading scorer in the reserve league.

    More realistically, he’s probably gone. I just hope the club has the stones to sell him to any club other than the one he’s currently training with.

    As an aside, for transfers of internationals, in Football Manager the MLS takes a varying cut (never quite sure what the rules are) ranging from 66% to 33% of the transfer fee and any subsequent fees (% of next transfer fee, monthly installments, etc.). Sp we’ll see some of the money.

    • Rituro says:

      And here I was thinking I’d be the one to make the FM comparison first. Well done, Scott.

      That said, I’m not sure it’s an accurate one; is an award from a court of arbitration a “transfer fee”?

  6. Rob R. Scott says:

    MLS legal machine now on red alert… every contract needing review, with many needing revision to v 1.50. Camilo’s made a lot of folks unhappy – none of them lawyers.

  7. John Andress 1 says:

    I heartily endorse your position on Camilo’s character as a result of this fiasco. Having listened to the anti-Lenarduzzi/VWFC propaganda coming from much of the mainstream media and from the Duze-o-phobes on twitter and in the blogs, I am bemused as to how this is all coming to rest at Lenadruzzi’s feet. I am of the opinion that the coming season (including pre-season administrative actions) will tell the tale about both Lanarduzzi and the Whitecaps’ management structure but to place the blame on Lenarduzzi because the “optics” are poor over Camilo’s Bemedict Arnold act convinces me that many are irrationally using this situation to advance an anti-Lenarduzzi agenda. As to the legality of the contract, as it reflects on both The Whitecaps and MLS, I would love to hear from MLS on this. I have a family member who is a lawyer specializing in multi-jurisdictional international treaties and contracts who warns me that it is sometimes a bit of a crapshoot as to how seemingly straightforward language can be interpreted. Or, for that matter, mis-interpreted. I would like to see this resolved quickly, preferably with Camilo replaced by someone with a bit of character to back up his skill and get back to taking about football.

  8. Tim says:

    Morals? This part is just business. Look you pay an agent a lot of your money so why would you not listen to his advice?

    Your agent says you are a free agent and the Caps don’t want to renegotiate and there is another team who will pay you 4 times what you are currently making. Tell me you wouldn’t say goodbye.

    IF FIFA rules against the MLS options clause then it is all MLS’s fault. None to Camilo and none to the Caps front office.

    From the examples you gave I’d say the Caps are screwed having just lost their top goal scorer and blew their chances of making the 2014 playoffs.

    • Tim says:

      Oh yea and they will get NO COMPENSATION. God this just keeps getting worse for the Caps.

      On the bright side they may get the first pick in the 2015 draft. Who is going to replace the goals he has scored over 3 years?

  9. Paul says:

    Excellent post and we can all agree that Camilo and his agent are classless. However, when all the dust settles, no doubt the Whitecaps will be exposed for total incompetence in this whole thing; whatever the legalities of “a contract is a contract”, the Caps at minimum fumbled the ball in not recognizing the needy nature inherent with a rare talent. They have paid the price for their complacency. Talk about the club shooting themselves in the foot over and over again since joining MLS. Whitecap fans are the losers yet again.

    • Benjamin Massey says:

      The Whitecaps would have had an exit interview with Camilo, like all the other players, at the end of last season. According to the Duze’s press conference yesterday the club and Carl Robinson had been in touch with Camilo a number of times through the off-season. They weren’t just letting him sit on it and spin. If the Whitecaps made a mistake, it’s “not thinking that something unprecedented and predicted by absolutely nobody was going to happen, and then not falling over themselves to give a mid-contract raise to a player they just gave a mid-contract raise to out of fear he’d turn out to be a lying dirty snake so that mid-contract raise wouldn’t buy them any loyalty anyway.”

      And I can let that slide.

      • Chris Corrigan says:

        Exactly. But the Duze haters will continue to find reasons why Lenarduzzi should be fired and the whole organization rebuilt and restructured.

        It rained today didn’t it? Whose fault was THAT?

        • Paul says:

          I submit that a pattern of incompetence was evident long before Camilo left town. Does that make me a “Duze hater”? I don’t consider myself one. All I know today is that as a season ticket holder I have no idea what or who I’ll be watching come March. The club is a debacle.

          • Chris Corrigan says:

            I don’t know if you are or not. But if you feel that the club is a debacle why hang on to your seasons tickets? I don’t think the club is a debacle. We have a solid core of exciting players, some needs to fill at RB and midfield and a new coach who seems to have the respect of the players. I pretty much know who I’ll be watching in March. And I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the various off-season acquisitions that might arrive eith through draft or market.

      • John Andress 1 says:

        It is the perception that everything that does not go exactly according to a particular individual’s preference, no matter how significant or inconsequential it may be, constitutes a disaster that I am beginning to find so discouragingly wearing. Sometimes it is just the ebb and flow, up and down of doing business.

  10. Paul says:

    I hang onto my season tickets because I want to support MLS in Vancouver. And my family enjoys the entertaining games and family-friendly environment. In the big picture, I want to see interest grow in this town – why is that not happening? As I say, a pattern of incompetence is in evidence. After this off-season, it’s difficult to envision attendance growing in 2014. Regardless, I’ll see you at the game.

    • Chris Corrigan says:

      Very good…see you at the game too. Bring friends…that’s how I grow the fan base.

  11. Seathanaich says:

    If I owned the “O Magico” sign hung in the curva I would no longer be hanging it at games, but would instead be standing by to hang it in effigy.

    • Chris Corrigan says:

      Something tells me we won’t be signing his Southsider banner and sending it along to Mexico. That was one of my favourite moments of 2012, when we ndid that for Dede, Hassli, Tan and LeToux

  12. Jeffrey S says:

    Great article and a big help for all of us fans.

    I agree with your ultimate conclusion, though with one condition: if Camilo’s agent had actively sought to renegotiate his contract, as he would have been justified to do, and was rejected on the basis of a standing signed contract. A contract now clearly possible to break legally. Simply put, if you have a star player who is worth transfer money, OFFER him a new and juicier deal precisely to ensure a future transfer payment.

    In any case, great summary. My conclusion is that Bob Lenarduzzi is in way over his head and should be the next one to go from the Caps.


  13. paul says:

    Successful teams know their players and recognize that a star player at 25 should be signed at substatialky more than jordan harvey. The caps were cheap, despite the conversations lenarduzzi stated he dud not discuss salary with camilo. NCamilo and his agent were unethical but Lenarduzzi is just plain naive and a candidate for the wood chipper.