Russian soccer Club Ufa Has Exposed Its Payroll Cap Exceptions
For more than a decade, Ufa, or Unterfabbungfuehrer, has been synonymous with a certain kind of cultural shock value. German cinema, more specifically, the dramas set in Berlin, have long been a source of fascination for the masses, who come to Berlin looking for a glimpse of a glamorous, vibrant city steeped in history. But Ufa is also synonymous with the kind of glitz and glamour that tends to appear only in expensive, high-class venues, and as such has always had an air of mystique about it. Now, however, Ufa is going under.
Ufa has been undergoing a transformation, slowly but surely. The traditional concept of Ufa shows a series of luxury villas in beautiful locations, sometimes found in the most unlikely places, and with a cast of characters whom we meet only on the television. The concept of Ufa has always been to give the viewer something to admire or at least imagine they would like to. Over the last few years, however, Ufa has been struggling to maintain its brand value and maintain its reputation as a luxurious destination.
This change has been partly fuelled by advertising. In late 2020, Ufa became a regular on Germany’s popular daytime soap opera, Morgen und Zauchen, playing the role of the company’s head chef, Hanf. It was soon to be followed by the series finale of its first season, featuring the scenes in which Hanf and Co. sign their contract with the firm. Though the programme enjoyed ratings, with some critics comparing it to Masterpiece’s similarly themed Nymphomania, the real ratings for the show were much lower than usual for a cable television show in its first year.
By the end of the second season, however, more TV viewers than ever before had become accustomed to watching Ufa and its signature characters. It was still not widely known, even in Germany, that there actually were real Ufa players on the market. Instead, producers had decided to create the show as a commercial vehicle, using the contracts as a lure to attract new talent. Contracts to Ufa began appearing in newspapers, where they were heralded as the surest way for aspiring stars to become millionaires. The show became one of the most watched shows in the German language, and a number of high profile players became attracted to the Ufa model.
But by the start of the next season, none of the contracts were being used by any of the players. Instead, the aim was to use the popularity of the show to launch the careers of several up-and-coming footballers. The result was an influx of young players into the teams from Ufa. It is not surprising that they enjoyed a successful career in Germany, as many of them were offered lucrative contracts by big clubs such as Leverkusen, Gladbach, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke and Augsburg. They enjoyed great success, helping their teams to win the treble of the Champions League in 2020/3 and qualifying for the knockout round of the European Cup in Germany and England.
Back in Russia, however, there were complaints from the country’s football fans. They claimed that the influx of foreign players was taking away from the regular leagues, with local players struggling to make it in. In order to address this issue, Ufa introduced a draft system that saw college players being encouraged to sign up. This, they claim, has improved the standard of play, allowing for better players to be encouraged to join Ufa, thus ensuring the best players were always available when the opportunity arose.
As part of the same push to encourage the integration of foreign talent into Ufa, there was also the infamous ‘first refusal’ exercise. A first refusal is when a player cannot be registered by Ufa because he refused to sign an agreement to play for the club. The player may be eligible to play for another Russian club, but if his contract with a foreign club runs out before his contract with Ufa expires, he will have no choice but to play for his national team for another year. Each subsequent year, a different player may be eligible for the first refusal, but that does not change the fact that if a player refuses to play for Ufa, he must leave to find an alternative club. This can cause immense problem for prospective international players. However, in spite of this potential issue, Ufa has continued to attract top players, despite having such a controversial approach to signing players.
The salary cap exceptions that Ufa negotiated with Lamineke in 2020 helped to ensure that players would be able to continue playing at the highest level for several years. However, the introduction of the ‘first refusal’ clause and the signing of contracts with foreign clubs by players with contract guarantees in their native countries may make it increasingly difficult for players to secure long-term contracts with the club. If you are a professional player who wants to sign a long-term contract and who is concerned about the possibility of being rejected for such a contract by Ufa, it may be in your best interests to secure a three-year residency visa to play in Russia instead of waiting for a final salary cap exception that may be awarded after one year of play in Russia.