One coach replacement per season: Is the new Brazilian model an option for Europe?

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On 29 May 2021, the new season of the “Campeonato Brasileiro Série A” (the Brazilian professional league for men’s football clubs) will start with a historic change: the coach may only be changed once per season.

Already at the end of March this year, the Brazilian Football Confederation (“CBF”) announced that it has put a limit on the possibility to replace a coach beginning with the 2021 season, which starts on 29 May 2021. From then on, every team in the Brazilian professional league Serie A is allowed only one coaching change per season, and coaches are allowed to manage only two clubs per season.

Each club starts with a registered coach at the beginning of the season. If this coach is dismissed without just cause by the club, then the club can only register a new coach once. Should a club decide to fire a coach without just cause for a second time within the same season, his replacement must have worked and been registered at the club for at least six months, for example as a youth coach or assistant coach. These limitations do, however, not apply when the coach resigns voluntarily, when the contract termination is based on just cause or on a mutual agreement between the coach and the club.

The same applies, vice versa, to the coach: the first-time registered coach can only resign once without just cause in order to register as a coach at another club. If he resigns a second time within the same season without just cause, he cannot be registered with another club. However, if he is fired by the club, the restriction does not apply and he can look for a new (third) club. The same applies in the event of a termination by mutual consent.

The CBF believes that coaches must be treated in the same manner as players, who are also limited in respect of the number of clubs they can be registered at in one season under FIFA’s transfer regulations.

It is no coincidence that Brazil is the first country which introduced regulatory limitations on head coach replacements. Brazilian football clubs are known to be impatient with their coaches. Two to three coaches per club within a season are by no means an exception.

But also in Europe, the number of coach replacements per season is increasing. For example, from the 13 coaching changes in the most recent 2020-21 Bundesliga season, four replacements have been made by FC Schalke 04 and three by FSV Mainz 05. In view of the recently announced expensive transfer of coach Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig to FC Bayern Munich, it is very likely that the choice of the coach will be increasingly focussed on in the future, especially in terms of financial considerations.

It remains to be seen whether a regulation as the Brazilian one will be implemented in European professional football leagues or – more likely – at UEFA level in the near future. Such restriction on coaching changes would raise a number of legal issues. As a sports associations’ regulation, it may fall within the prohibitions of the European antitrust provisions Art. 101 and 102 TFEU. These provisions would not be violated if the coaching regulation serves legitimate objectives, its consequential effects restrictive of competition are inherent in the pursuit of those objectives and proportionate to them. Further, as such coaching regulation may have a negative impact on coaches’ chances to be employed with a club, it may also fall within the scope of European fundamental freedoms and rights, in particular the freedom of movement for workers (Art. 45 TFEU) and the freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work (Art. 15 of the EU Charta of Fundamental Rights). The justification of such actions raises questions similar to the antitrust justification.

The arguments in favour and against the coaching regulation can be taken into account in the assessment of the legal justification. One could argue that the regulation would lead to a more provident selection of head coaches and more conscientious planning in the area of youth and assistant coaches, resulting in a more sustainable financial and sports-related development of the clubs, thereby safeguarding and promoting equal opportunities and a fair competition between the clubs. In some cases, it is then solely up to these youth and assistant coaches to ensure that the season is still successful. However, on the other hand, the regulation would still be facing significant legal barriers since the restrictions considerably affect the clubs’ economic freedom of action and previous examples indicate that multiple coaching changes during a season can be necessary steps in the development of a team. Furthermore, it can certainly be expected that clubs and coaches will try to circumvent the restrictions. For example, instead of terminating a coach without just cause, a club may try to sign a mutual termination agreement with the coach it wants to dismiss, and to incentivize the coach’s agreement by paying him a lucrative compensation.

Brazil will deliver answers to some of the pertinent questions in the next months.