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Can clubs exclude players from squad activities?

The simple answer is no. By law, excluding a player from the squad’s activities with no just cause is illegal and can constitute a serious breach of the player’s rights.

In practice however clubs tend to get away with these practices because players either are unaware of their rights and the illegality of such practices, or because they want to avoid further conflict by raising their voices and seeking legal action against their employer.

One of the main reasons for a club to exclude players from group activities such as pre-season tours and team trainings is to pressure the player, who is still under contract, into looking for a new club.

A recent example of such a case is the case of Celta de Vigo player Denis Suarez. As opposed to many other players who do not speak out against such practices, Suarez did seek the help of the Spanish player’s union AFE who immediately took action against the player’s Club, Celta de Vigo by publicly condemning the club for excluding the player from the pre-season tour and warning the club’s president that legal action will be taken if the player is not reintegrated within all team activities immediately.

Ex Barcelona player Denis Suarez’s exclusion from some of the squad’s activities comes as no surprise as the player has been enduring tough times at his club Celta de Vigo for a while now. The origin of the conflict dates back to last year when the agency Intermedia Sport Player, representing Denis Suarez and some other players on the team facilitated the transfer of a very young promising talent (Bryan Bugarín) from Celta’s grassroots academy to Real Madrid.

This transfer did not sit well with Carlos Mouriño, long-term president of Celta. Unofficial sources have confirmed Suarez to be a shareholder of the agency and therefor, to have benefitted from this transfer that according to Mouriño “is a direct betrayal against the club”. Celta firmly condemned this action by breaking off all relationships with the above-mentioned agency and requesting all Celta players signed by the agency, to do the same.

Most players, through some tough negotiations with the club managed to encounter a solution and chose Celta’s side. Denis Suarez was not one of them and decided to continue with the agency; this conflict has now resulted in a very public warfare between the club’s president and Denis Suarez. Subsequently, the player was excluded from the Club’s preseason tour in the US and Mexico.

Spanish laws governing the rights and duties of players establish in several provisions that excluding players from the squad may constitute a serious breach of the player’s rights:

Articles 4.2, sections a and b, and 17.1 of the Workers' Statute (establishes that all employees are entitled to effectively perform their work duties, take part in development trainings that favor their development and any type of discriminatory behavior at the workplace will be deemed void by law)

Article 7.4 of Royal Decree 1006/1985 regulating the employment relationship of professional athletes (establishes that professional athletes have the right to effective employment and cannot, except in case of sanction or injury, be excluded from training and other instrumental or preparatory activities)

And Article 8A of the collective bargaining agreement (establishes that training sessions will be carried out collectively, except in cases of recovery from illness, injury or other justified causes which must be notified in writing to the player and that any other type of unjustified exclusion would be contrary to the law)

Denis Suarez has one year left on his contract, which expires in the summer of 2023. The club’s president declared in a press conference yesterday that situation is irreversible at this point, denying any type of exclusion from the squad and confirming that the club will comply with their contractual obligations (allowing the player to train and eat with the squad and pay the player’s wages) but that that’s all the player can expect: the bare minimum. The club refuses to terminate the contract of the player and enable him to sign for a new team as a free player. The player has been rather vocal about the situation himself, using his social media to express his own thoughts.

The parties do not seem to be on speaking terms and an amicable solution doesn’t seem in the cards. As long as both parties commit to keeping up their contractual obligations, they technically can’t get rid of one another for one more year.

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