By Dr Billy “the dog” McGraw, chief psychologist at the University College Hospital of the North Circular Road.
The dismissal of nine players by FC Sion has taken on a particular importance in European football, as much of the continent is now watching to see how things begin to shake out, following the “interesting” behaviour of the club’s owner.
And of course we have an interest in the affair because two of the players involved were our old chums, Johan Djourou and Alex Song. Indeed even the Daily Mail in England, not known as a newspaper with a deep interest in things European (beyond stories that attack the EU), has found the issue to be worthy of publication.
They report that Alex Song is lobbying Fifa to take legal action against Sion following the refusal of the players to accept a “take it or leave us” pay cut. Song, Johan Djourou, and seven other players who said “no” to, or simply did not reply to, the requirement to accept lower wages, on Wednesday last week, have all been sacked.
It appears that several things annoyed the players apart from the reduction in salaries. One was the lack of negotiation or discussion – something that every employer surely knows, is always a good start if you seriously want to get a resolution or an agreement.
Second, there was the issue of a series of meetings with the club President which were planned but did not happen. Cancelling meetings at a time of crisis is a very bad ploy.
Third there was the ultimatum sent by a text message to the players, and the demand for an immediate signature showing agreement by noon the following day, without any further explanation of what the club’s plans were. And this is something that seems to contrast sharply with what is happening in other clubs.
And so the Swiss players’ union SAFP sent back a note saying, ‘You have terminated the employment contracts of the players without notice by letter dated 18 March, 2020. We hereby expressly protest against this termination without notice.” (An arbitrary reduction of salary without negotiation is considered to be akin to termination of the contract in most western countries).
‘We therefore expect you to withdraw these abusive terminations immediately and to enter into discussions on possible alternatives.’
I am not sure if this set of actions was meant as anything other than being a notice of rebuttal, or whether it was a trap for Christian Constantin, the owner and President of Sion, to fall into, but if it was a trap, it worked like a dream.
First Constantin called his former players “imbeciles” (“Dummkopf”). That’s never likely to impress an employment tribunal or indeed a court of law.
Second, as noted, he asked for an immediate response to the demand, which would, of course, inhibit the players’ ability to get their union representatives and lawyers to take up the case.
But those turned into minor matters when it emerged that only nine players were dismissed even though (as far as I can tell) they all rejected the pay cut delivered by text message.
The law in Switzerland is quite clear in that mass dismissals of staff by an employer are perceived in law in different ways depending on the number of people dismissed.
If between one and nine people are sacked over a single issue, then the dismissals are considered to be individual occurrences. But when ten are kicked out together, then the law considers this a case of collective dismissal, and matters are dealt with in a different, more complex manner.
Obviously kicking out nine players from a complete squad that is in an uproar over the owner’s actions looks highly suspicious, but then the owner, seemingly losing any sort of grip on the affair which he might have retained up to that moment, lost his way totally because in an interview he said,
“I specifically chose nine players because the dismissal of ten employees makes us switch to collective dismissal; which makes the process more complicated. Then I proceeded according to the age and the duration of the contract. ”
The words “foot” “oneself” and “shooting”, come to mind, although not in that order and with the addition of the phrase “in the”.
The specific mention of this fact as a key part in the owner’s decision making is an admission of a strategy which is independent of the matter in hand, and that would tend to invalidate the notion that there was a need to make these nine, and specifically these nine, redundant.
Particularly as Johan Djourou stated in an interview with France TV that all the players refused to accept the reduction in salary.
Then, deciding that the flames engulfing the club were not bringing the whole edifice down yet, the owner decided to fan them a little more by saying, “As leader, [Xavier] Kouassi had to be on the list. He only thinks about money. As for Djourou, he supported Kouassi, which was just stupid on his part.”
Presumably Christian Constantin will follow up this affair with a new book. “Negotiations with footballers: how to screw up”. We look forward to reading it.
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