When Jean-Kevin Augustin arrived at Elland Road, just days before the 2020 January transfer window slammed shut, there was understandable excitement in the air. The Whites were in the midst of a promotion push and were looking for the extra firepower they would need to get them over the line. Augustin seemed to fit the bill. At just 22, the Frenchman already had a league title with PSG to his name and had bagged 20 goals and 8 assists in 67 games for RB Leipzig.
Leeds had little cover for top scorer Patrick Bamford, who grabbed 16 goals that year, with on loan Eddie Nketiah playing just 663 minutes in all competitions that season. The deal seemed like a no-brainer for Leeds, with Augustin’s experience at the top level sure to prove valuable in the closing stages of the season.
The 22-year-old initially arrived at Elland Road on loan for the rest of the season. However, Leeds announced that they held “the option to sign the player on a permanent basis upon completion of his loan spell.” According to the BBC, this option was in fact an obligation to buy the player for a fee of £18 million over three instalments, on the condition that the club achieved promotion to the Premier League.
A costly mistake
Considering Leeds also agreed to cover the player’s 90,000 euros per week wage during his loan spell, the deal was always going to be a costly one for a club who were still in the Championship at the time. But Marcelo Bielsa was glowing in his assessment of Augustin’s ability.
He said: “He’s a centre forward with good movement and mobility. He’s involved in the combination play and has a lot of presence in the box. He has a well-known background, a good trajectory and he’s going to be useful for the needs we have in our team.” Bielsa would later go on to claim that “a player of his level, with his skill, if he’s playing he could cost £30 million or £40 million.”
Unfortunately for Leeds, playing football matches was not something Augustin did much during his time in Yorkshire. Injuries and fitness issues meant that Augustin would barely feature for the first team and never looked like breaking into the first eleven. In total, the Frenchman would play just 48 minutes of Championship football across three appearances for the Whites. It is perhaps no surprise then, that on the 1st July with Leeds still chasing promotion following the suspension of the season due to Covid-19, the Athletic’s Phil Hay confirmed that the club would not be extending the player’s loan through to the end of the campaign.
Despite the announcement, Hay confirmed that: “it’s an obligation (to buy). Unless there are contractual loopholes, Leeds are in a corner with this one.” Augustin’s time in England may have come to an end, but the saga surrounding him was only just beginning.
Bring in the lawyers
Inevitably, Leipzig soon came calling for their money. In fact, that very day Manuel Veth reported that Leipzig remained adamant they would be due the £18 million when Leeds were eventually promoted. German publication Bild went as far as to accuse Leeds of attempting to “trick and bypass their option to buy the striker”. While Leipzig were adamant the contract was watertight, Leeds argued that the fact his loan spell ended before promotion was clinched, due to the suspension of the season, meant that they were not liable for a permanent transfer fee. As Leeds had still not been promoted when the obligation to buy came into effect, they felt the conditions for the obligation to triggered had not been met despite their later promotion.
In September of that year Leipzig’s sporting director, Markus Krösche made it clear the German club would not give up easily. He said: “The legal situation is clear… everyone was aware that the contracts are clear. I hope for a quick solution, because there is also a player and a person behind it. Why Leeds act the way they act, I can hardly judge. It is now our lawyers’ turn.”
Krösche’s hopes for a quick resolution were not forthcoming. The case was eventually referred to FIFA on 13th November 2020 with the two clubs still in deadlock. However, FIFA did not make their ruling until June of 2021, almost a full year after Leeds had declined to extend Augustin’s stay at the club. The verdict was not what Andrea Radrizzani and Leeds were hoping for. Bild reported that FIFA had ruled in Leipzig’s favour and that Leeds were liable for the £18 million fee.
The Single Judge of the Players Status Committee ruled that the contract “clearly specifies only one condition precedent for the permanent transfer of the player to the respondent (Leeds) and that is the respondent’s promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2019/20 season. The mere fact that the season ended on a later date than originally anticipated… does not lead the Single Judge to conclude that the purchase obligation was no longer triggered when the respondent achieved promotion only after 30 June 2020.”
As a result, Leeds were ordered to pay the first instalment of the transfer fee by the end of September 2020, plus 5% interest per annum, or they would face a three window transfer ban. Reacting to the decision, Red Bull’s commercial director Florian Scholz said: “We are glad that FIFA has confirmed our legal opinion in the first instance”. However, as Bild reported, the decision was not legally binding as Leeds had the right to appeal.
Leeds play the waiting game at CAS
Unsurprisingly, Leeds have since appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On the March 15th BBC Leeds journalist Adam Pope reported that the CAS hearing had been completed and that the clubs are now awaiting a verdict. According to Pope: “This can take anything up to a few months under the internal processes at CAS”.
The decision will essentially rest on whether CAS feels, like FIFA, that the only stipulation that needed to be met for Augustin’s transfer to become permanent was Leeds’ promotion or whether the contract specifically stated that promotion had to be won before the 30th June 2020. Leeds will be anxious to avoid the payment given that they could be staring down the barrel of a relegation battle and if they were to lose that fight, it would result in a huge cut to their turnover.
If that was to come to fruition and Leeds are indeed in the midst of rebuilding their squad to push for promotion this coming summer, the last thing they need is a huge transfer fee for a player currently at Nantes whose value has dropped to just £1.35 million on Transfermarkt. However, with the legal precedent set by FIFA favouring Leipzig, Leeds could well come out on the wrong side of what has become a messy legal battle.