English football meets MLB: The rise of ‘pillow contracts’

“The pillow is for a restful sleep and is not designed for extended periods of time,” says Scott Porras. athlete.

One of the most powerful sports agents in the world, the former baseball player turned leading talent broker is also an inventor.

“Holding Pillow”? Yes, I made it,” he says.

But what are they, how do they work and why have they become more relevant to English football?

Takes Jesse Lingardfor one year in Nottingham Forestfor example.

His stock was up after a successful loan period in West Ham In 2020-21 but then in his final year in Manchester United He did not display his talents in the way he would have liked. Rather than taking a long-term deal elsewhere – David Moyes wanted him to return to the London Stadium – he chose to sign a highly lucrative 12-month deal in Newly upgraded to woodland.

Lingard, 29, signed a one-year contract at Forest (Image: Getty Images)

get jungle England International with no obligation to continue paying for it Premier League If they don’t survive in the Premier League next season, and Lingard is actually betting on himself to succeed and get another well-paid deal next summer.

the athlete Talk to a range of football stakeholders, including agents, former players and those in club recruitment positions, to find out if so-called ‘pillow contracts’ – short-term deals sometimes also referred to as ‘good contracts’ – It will become more and more popular in the English game. The sources requested anonymity to protect the interests of their players.

So will we see more pillow talk in the Premier League in the coming years?

“I wanted fans to understand that when you do things on a short-term basis, for just one year, you’re doing it for immediate relief and long-term benefit,” Boras explains. “You decide to give the player a comfortable spot, a comfortable performance opportunity, hence the name ‘pillow contract’. It is short term, designed to improve performance or return to performance in that particular year, so that he can then look for a long-term relationship afterwards” .

The idea arose in 2010 when Seattle Mariner’s third baseman, Adrian Belter, then 30, reached the end of his contract and was looking to launch his career. “It’s true of a great player who has been injured (like Belter) or hasn’t performed at his normal level,” says Boras. “He was offered multi-year contracts at reduced values ​​that tried to win him over with a guarantee over several years.”

But Boras was playing the long game. His real rating was three times what these three year performances annually had. So my advice was to take the pad contract, do one year, and then you get a six year deal and earn three times more per year if he performs at a high level. It worked very well.”

“In his one year with Boston, he (Pelter) rebuilt his value by having his best season in six years,” Athletic Mark Carriage, Major League Baseball editor, explains. “He turned this season into the long-term deal he’s wanted all along: six years, $96m (£78.77m) with the Texas Rangers, where he became a pivotal figure in the team that won the MLS flag. He has been an All-Star star in three of the His first four seasons and he ended up staying after his original deal in Texas, where he became a beloved player. His next stop would be the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Adrian Belter

Belter at Fenway Park in Boston in May 2010. (Photo: Michael Ivins/Getty Images)

But it turns out it’s not a giant leap from the world of Alex Rodriguez – another agent of Boras – to the world of Lingard.

In England, one-year deals tend to be more prevalent for older players who are no longer responsible for coaching compensation (paid to the club where the player came until the end of the season in which they turn 23). They are basically betting on themselves to perform in the hope that it will lead to something bigger in the future.

A well-paid player who becomes a free agent may receive a one-year deal with the intention of moving forward. football League Or another team in the English Premier League. However, a low-paid football player is looking for more long-term security.

with Lingard, Forrest has taken a risk that they hope will be mutually beneficial. He admitted in a recent BBC interview that he “could have gone abroad for a lot of money” but wanted to stay in the Premier League. His closeness to his daughter has also been cited as the reason, apart from his desire to prove himself again in the league he knows so well. It is understood that he earns approximately £110,000 per week with additional items and important bonuses.

One agent says: “The shorter the contract, the more likely the player and agent will improve if they perform really well in a year or two, and then have the potential to be a free agent, or keep the cards in the renegotiation.”

Another says: “Lingard mode low risk, maximum reward.” “It’s the ultimate ‘support yourself’ strategy. But not all boys are able to handle that pressure. For some, it brings out the best in them.”

However, he was careful to stress the risks of such deals.

“There is always this[risk]of injury and the general volatility of football,” he says. “But I think it’s outside of the important deals that you see when a player moves on for a big fee and it’s in everyone’s interest to sign a long-term deal with big pay at a fixed commission over the length of the contract for the agent, and then be more and more players signing short-term deals.

And a former Premier League footballer who now works as the player’s representative adds: “There is a lot to be said because the player needs to support himself. In terms of Forrest, Jesse might see it as a starting point for a bigger club, which makes a lot of sense for a player who thinks he can get to Level up again.”

Another acknowledgment of timing is everything in such situations. “There are pros and cons in my opinion,” he says. “If the players come back for themselves, it can pay off in the long run, but I usually think it’s because the player thought there was something else in the market and realized there was probably nothing else. This kind of deal will work with players who have value. in terms of charging a transfer fee but if you can’t charge a transfer fee, you are a dead asset in the market.”

Views on boards also differ, with one tournament executive highlighting how cushion contracts are working well for clubs just promoted. In one respect, parachute payments and relegation clauses in contracts mean new top-flight clubs play safely on one-year deals – even if they end up being relegated.

the athlete He has seen email communications relating to ongoing transfer negotiations between two Premier League teams showing how additional payments are weighted significantly toward the retention of status by the purchased club. Relatively small payments – in this case, two sums of £1.5m and £1m – would be easy to afford if they kept going up and easy savings if they went down.

If a free agent signs a one-year deal with a similar deal structure based on remaining in the Premier League, those bonuses do not need to go directly to the selling club and can be paid to the player instead. This can provide an additional incentive that can benefit both the player and his club.

But one Premier League coach familiar with the dangers of fighting relegation is skeptical about the value of one-year deals.

“Often there is good reason for a player to become a free agent and by the time he becomes a free agent it becomes less desirable than it was at the time this contract began. Kylian Mbappe (at Paris Saint-Germain) It is a rare exception. I don’t imagine there are many examples of a one-year deal becoming a three-year deal after 12 months.”

Paris Saint-Germain

Mbappe has agreed a new deal with Paris Saint-Germain with only weeks left on his old contract (Photo: Aurelien Meunier – PSG / PSG via Getty Images)

An agency recently brokered a one-year deal for a tournament player to join a lower league team. “If he gets injured, he is in a difficult situation,” says one of the sources. “Our player hasn’t played much in the past 12 months and the hope is that if he plays (most of the time) this season, he’ll make up for what he didn’t get in safety and wages when we arrive in the summer and he has minutes and goals in the bank.”

The basic principle of the one-year deal is “try before you buy” – but if all goes well, the ticket price will go up.

“Sometimes in deals like this, the club or players find it hard to predict where they are in terms of the second, third or fourth year ‘worth’ wages, so this is a way to get around that as well,” says one agent.

Another agent in a leading company with hundreds of footballers kept it brief. “It tends to be a good fit for players who have a point to prove. If you are a sought-after player, there is no chance of getting that.”

A senior football official sees it this way. “Switched agents prey on the clubs’ aspirations for short-term success and offer players to clubs on the basis that they get a promotion based on what they have, plus it gives the player time in the shop window to get better contracts from the biggest clubs. It works best for international players who want prove themselves in the UK.”

12-month deals are called different things and come in different forms as well.

“The championship version of pillow contracts are loans,” says a sports director in this department. “You just have to commit the money for 12 months so it doesn’t break your budget and charge a player in the Premier League and hope it makes the difference.”

One-year permanent deals were done in the department, too.

After his move to Club Brugge collapsed, Benik Afobe the left A bustling city, a thriving city And signed for a year in Millwall (where he was previously on loan) and will review his situation at the end of the season. Ryan Nyambi terminated his contract in burning black He was in talks with a number of clubs over a long-term contract but settled on a one-year deal with a new promotion Wigan Athletic. Once again, he and the club will take a view in May.


Afobe has joined Millwall on a short-term deal after spending time there on loan (Image: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

When asked if he’s heard of the term “pillow contract,” an agent admitted he hadn’t heard of it but might adopt it in the future.

“It’s good to know that (it could become part of the English football transfer dictionary),” Boras said upon being briefed. “It is a dimension that allows for real increases in value and creates equality (for the club and the player). But I hope I don’t have to do too many of them because it usually means that a very talented player has been injured or for some reason is underperforming.”

One step at a time, but the seed for “pillow decades” may have been woven by now.