Serbian giant Red Star is engulfed in a financial crisis that has seen it banned from the Champions League and many players pay a hefty personal price.
Salaries have not been paid for more than six months as pressure mounts on players to terminate their contracts and in most cases forfeit what is owed to them.
Deeply worrying examples of non-payment and spiralling debt are widespread in Serbia. According to the Serbian professional footballers association Nezavisnost (SPFN) only one club in the country's top flight (Super League) is paying its players on time.
Earlier this month, UEFA announced that 1991 European champion Red Star has been banned from next season’s Champions League qualifiers after breaching several provisions of the UEFA Club Licencing (CL) and Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations.
In a 26-page report the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) described debts to players, coaches and other clubs totalling 1.896 million Euro in overdue payables.
The UEFA judgement accuses Red Star of falsifying infomation, hiding debts and causing delays. The report stated, 'The CFCB Adjudicatory Chamber is particularly concerned by the repeated and serious inaccuracy of key financial information and the lack of timely disclosures.' UEFA adds, 'it is difficult... to be persuaded by Red Star's statement that "at no time did Red Star try to hide outstanding payments..."
The ruling came just weeks after Red Star claimed its first league title since 2007 and 26th overall. Nezavisnost President Mirko Poledica said, "Red Star is the most important club in Serbia. Supporters are in shock, each day the newspapers are dedicating numerous pages to the clubs problems."
For Poledica, the severity of Red Star’s problems is no secret. When resigning as chairman two years ago, Vladan Lukic said that the club was struggling with debts of 60 million Euro.
In its latest ruling, UEFA reminded Red Star that the club had (in September 2011) accumulated 2.729 million Euro in overdue payables and noted, 'it is clear that these earlier disciplinary measures were not enough of a deterrent to prevent Red Star from committing further breaches of the CL&FFP Regulations.'
Red Star signed new players at the start of this season on big contracts, far more than the average salaries the other top clubs are paying. However, it did not take long before problems surfaced as the Serbian players’ union received numerous complaints. Many Red Star players have not been paid for at least six months. “Probably more”, says Poledica.
Some Red Star players were unable to pay for food and rent. Adding insult to injury, they were even required to pay their own way to attend a training camp and buy balls for practice. In February, in an effort to help Red Star solve its problems, the players accepted pay cuts which reportedly allowed the club to trim its total wage bill by two million Euro.
Ten players have terminated their contracts with Red Star over the past two seasons due to non-payment by the club (see list below). The most recent examples are Luka Milunovic and Milos Ninkovic who ended their contracts by mutual agreement last Tuesday, June 10.
At the time of writing, other affected Red Star players were also considering whether to terminate their contracts. In Serbia, players have the right to terminate their contract when they have not been paid for three consecutive months.
Terminating a contract by mutal agreement in Serbia generally means that the player and the club agree that the player will only receive a small percentage of the income he is owed and that the player no longer claims his salary for the remainder of his contract. In short, the player helps the club by waiving a large portion of the money he was promised when he signed. Or in blunt terms, the player pays for the mismanagement of the club.
Survey data from FIFPro's Black Book Eastern Europe (released in 2012) found 42.6% of the 287 Serbian-based professional footballers who participated in the questionnaire did not receive their wages on time. Of that group, 26.5% reported having to wait more than three months.
There are many more professional footballers in Serbia who are facing non-payment. "Only one club really pays the players", says Poledica. That club is FK Cukaricki Belgrade. "In the past two weeks alone, we received more than twenty new cases. Currently, approximately a hundred cases are pending at the NDRC (National Dispute Resolution Chamber)"
PLAYERS WHO LEFT RED STAR AFTER TERMINATING their CONTRACT:
Marko Perovic (terminated December 2012) Current club: Chainat FC, Thailand
Filip Mladenovic (terminated November 2013) Current club: FC Bate Borisov, Belarus
Filip Jankovic (terminated July 2013) Current club: Parma, Italy
Aleksandar Pantic (terminated July 2013). Current club: Villarreal, Spain
Srdjan Mijailovic (terminated July 2013) Current club: Kayserispor, Turkey
Cadú (terminated July 2013) Current club: Sheriff Tiraspol, Moldova
Milos Dimitrijevic (terminated April 2013) Current club Sydney FC, Australia
Nikola Maksimovic (terminated July 2013) Current club: Torino, Italy
Luka Milunovic (terminated June 2014) Available
Milos Ninkovic (terminated June 2014) Available
Photo (top left): Serbian champion Red Star during 2013/14 season
Photo (right): Red Star players lift the European Champions' Cup trophy in 1991
- Published: 18 June 2014