Players are sending 'highlight reel' videos in search of new contracts

With 800 players searching for new teams, pros across English football are sending ‘highlight reel’ videos to clubs up and down the pyramid in the hope of securing a contract for next season – SPECIAL REPORT

  • Some clubs will use the opening weeks of pre-season to hold mass try-outs 
  • As many as 800 players are out of contract or set to be out of contract soon
  • Stewart Downing and Kyle Naughton are among players with uncertain futures 
  • Player management agencies are sending clubs dossiers of their stars 
  • Whilst some professionals will find new clubs, others may drop out of the game 

Footballers are preparing themselves for a summer of trials and permanent pay cuts as they fight to stay in the professional game.

Clubs across the country, primarily in the EFL, plan to use the opening weeks of pre-season to hold mass try-outs for hundreds of out-of-contract players who face having their livelihoods taken away as teams cut their cloth accordingly owing to the financial crisis caused by Covid-19.

As many as 800 playing contracts have already expired or are due to expire at the end of the season — such as Stewart Downing, who had a one-year deal at Blackburn, and Kyle Naughton at Swansea. 

Stewart Downing’s contract at Blackburn is set to come to expire at the end of this season 

Players such as Kyle Naughton, currently at Swansea, face an uncertain time in their careers

Many could be forced into non-League football or even out of the game altogether. Players and their representatives have begun taking matters into their own hands by compiling ‘highlight reel’ videos, which are sent to clubs in the hope of sparking interest.

Similarly, player management agencies are sending clubs comprehensive dossiers of their out-of-contract stars.

A significant number, particularly those towards the upper end of the pyramid, will continue their careers at new clubs. But hundreds of players are left facing career and financial uncertainty. Many are expected to be unattached well into next season.

Worse still, a significant number of players — particularly those in the twilight of their careers — have discussed dropping out of the professional game.

With EFL clubs discussing reducing squad sizes to 20, a surplus of players going into next season is inevitable. Players under 21 will be exempt from the squad cap, which places more uncertainty on ageing players.

So too does the strategy from a number of EFL clubs to loan younger players from the Premier League because such deals are viewed as being more economical than permanently signing experienced players.

‘It’s a mess,’ one agent said. ‘There’s so many free agents but not enough squad places to go around. Players will just be forced to start again, worse yet players will fall out of the game altogether — that is a certainty.

‘Even for those who earn contracts, the likelihood is that they will have to take significantly lower wages.’

Sportsmail knows of one Premier League player, who was earning in the region of £2,700 a week, being offered a basic wage of £700 a week by a League One side following his recent release.

This scenario is becoming a regular occurrence for free agents, who are finding the only way they can guarantee a wage next season is by accepting pay reductions.

Former England goalkeeper Joe Hart is a free agent after his contract at Burnley expired 

In usual circumstances players would bide their time, knowing clubs will either increase their offers or agents would find rival teams willing to pay more.

Freddie Akehurst, who runs Apex Sports Group and has been operating in the Premier League and EFL for nearly 15 years advising players and clubs, said: ‘For me, players and their agents need to have a definitive system for working out their present and future value in order to either agree to a contract or not. 

‘It requires rational and calm thinking from the agent. Clubs will use Covid to crush negotiations.’

Players fear rejecting contracts will leave them vulnerable to missing out on a new club altogether — a risk some are not willing to take.

The EFL – led by chairman Rick Parry (pic) – are discussing a financial relief fund for players

With mortgage payments and car finance agreements to meet every month, playing it safe and accepting a lower wage is, perhaps, understandable.

The Premier League, EFL and PFA have discussed establishing a financial relief fund to protect players left unemployed because of the coronavirus. There will be some who have no option but to downgrade vehicles or downsize homes because they cannot afford to maintain the same standard of living.

Players who were in the midst of renegotiating existing contracts but were driving a hard bargain are now finding themselves going back to clubs telling them they’ll sign the original offer.

In many cases, players have been told those first offers are no longer on the table.

PFA chairman Gordon Taylor says the players’ union will contact out-of-contract players

Udo Onwere, partner and head of sport at Bray and Krais Solicitors, said: ‘The only legal point for players renegotiating contracts is if they offer you less favourable terms that’s tantamount to releasing you. There’s going to be huge availability of older players.’

Gordon Taylor, PFA chairman, says the players’ union will contact out-of-contract players individually. He told Sportsmail: ‘We will be in touch with players during what we know is an uncertain period. We will endeavour to contact all of them.

‘We will offer them the help and support they need, whether it’s over their next move, next contract, financial advice, training or re-training or if they need mental health support, we will be here.’

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