In January 2019, Borussia Dortmund agreed a $73 million deal for American stalwart Christian Pulisic to move to Chelsea in the summer of 2019. The 20-year old now holds a few records including the most expensive American player transfer, the third most expensive transfer for a player under the age of 21 (behind Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele), and achieving Chelsea’s second most expensive transfer ever. His big money transfer also highlights a major flaw within the US Soccer system: US Soccer does not participate in the FIFA Solidarity Payments System.
Solidarity Payments Explained
Solidarity payments were designed to compensate youth football clubs for developing players.
FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) states “whenever a player is transferred prior to the end of their contract, and moves to a club in a different country, 5% of the transfer is allocated to the club or clubs that developed the player.”
US Soccer Federation has forbidden the implementation of RSTP, citing fears of violating child labor laws or anti-trust grounds from stakeholders such as the MLS Players Union.
Before Pulisic joined Borussia Dortmund at 16, he played for a club team in his native Pennsylvania called the PA Classics. Under FIFA regulations Pulisic’s former club would be entitled to nearly $600,000 of the transfer fee Chelsea paid to Dortmund. Unfortunately due to the lack of involvement by US Soccer, the PA Classics are unlikely to ever receive the funds.
The solidarity payments system has made huge dividends for smaller clubs throughout the world. In July 2017, Swedish defender Victor Lindelof transfered to Manchester United for around €35 million from the Portuguese club Benfica. Lindelof‘s youth club Vasteras was compensated with €5.1 million for developing the player before he moved to Benfica in 2011 at the age of 18. In a similar situation, when Luis Suarez moved from Liverpool to Barcelona in 2014 for a record €82.3 million, his first club, Nacional in Uruguay received about €6 million from the transfer.
Recently the young Ajax talent, Frenkie De Jong announced that he will be moving to Barcelona this summer for a rumored €75 million. Before De Jong played at Ajax, he started his career at the Dutch club Willem II. Willem II placed a clause in De Jong’s contract guaranteeing them 10% of any initial transfer. With the move to Barcelona, the club is now entitled to €7.5 million.
The $600,000 could also go a long way here in the United States, with US Soccer’s pay-to-play system still intact, that money could mitigate some of the expensive club costs that come with being a youth soccer player in America through club scholarships and other efforts.
One could ask, why wouldn’t US Soccer stakeholders allow youth clubs to pursue paybacks for helping to develop top talent? Bob Foose of the MLS Players Union was asked about solidarity payments for American players, and he had a very different viewpoint on this. "We have said consistently that training compensation and solidarity payments are bad for players, and would treat players differently than employees in any other industry, including sports," Foose said. "For example, it’s absurd to think that a business school could demand a fee from a company that hired one of its students. Yet, that’s the kind of payments the youth clubs seek. No player should have the market for his services adversely affected by these payments. This is not to say that players and the Players Union don’t believe in and support youth development. We do, but it should not be funded through a tax on randomly selected professional players’ contracts."
Currently, Washington-based club Crossfire Premier has a dispute held up in FIFA’s Court of Arbitration involving solidarity payments. USMNT and Newcastle United right back DeAndre Yedlin, transferred to Tottenham Hotspur from the Seattle Sounders for $4 million in 2014. In 2015, Crossfire Premier, along with the Dallas Texans, and Sockers FC of Chicago filed complaints with the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, claiming a combined $480,500 on transfers involving Yedlin, Clint Dempsey (Dallas Texans) and Michael Bradley (Sockers FC). Crossfire Premier believes that they are entitled to close to $60,000 of Yedlin’s transfer fees. It’s also worth noting that around $20 million in transfer transactions were used for Dempsey throughout his career and $17 million for Bradley.
If Yedlin’s club is successful in their court suit, this would open up Pulisic’s former club, PA Classics and many others to pursue these compensation payments. Many argue that US Soccer’s pay-to-play practice has hindered the development of the game in this country and is seen as one of the many reasons why the US failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Growing up, I played club soccer in Connecticut and later Michigan. My parents, along with millions of others throughout the country paid thousands of dollars in club fees with little to no return of investment. If even one player from a youth club earns a professional move overseas, solidarity payments could be used in many beneficial ways, including providing financially less fortunate players with free or more affordable opportunities to play.