In it for the long haul: The longest contracts in football

14th September 2021

Inaki Williams signed one of the longest contracts in football with Athletic Bilbao

To the casual observer, long contracts in football are foolish. The beautiful game is more transient than ever.

Deals signed by players and managers aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Ask yourself this, is a footballer honouring their contract an exception or the rule?

In a coach’s case it’s more often than not a question of if they’re allowed to. This is an era where the demands of fickle fans, investors and owners is instant success.

Inaki Williams signed a nine-year extension with Athletic Bilbao recently. That’s not a misprint. He’s 25 and that deal is about the expected length of his career in the Basque Country.

In the last nine years, Bilbao have had six different managers. That highlights how much and how often things change in football within that time.

Athletic are somewhat unique in their recruitment though. Only people born in or with connections to the Basque Country can play for the club.

This engenders loyalty that is lacking pretty much everywhere else in football. It also holds Bilbao back from being even relatively successful compared to Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Williams’ willingness to commit to a nine-year deal made us think about the longest contracts in football. We discovered it’s actually becoming more common to tie players down for longer.

Denilson signs on for decade at Betis

Remember Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning winger Denilson? He was a world record transfer to Real Betis in 1998 on a 10-year deal.

This is one of the longest contracts in football ever agreed. Denilson even saw seven years of his decade-long commitment out in Seville.

He did have a brief stint back in his homeland on loan at Flamengo after Betis were relegated in 2000. When they made an immediate return to La Liga, however, Denilson was back in Seville.

Betis then recorded four consecutive top half finishes, even qualifying for the Champions League. Denilson also won the Copa del Rey before leaving for Bordeaux in 2005.

By then he was a peripheral figure who had seen nine coaches come and go. Denilson played under Javier Clemente, Guus Hiddink and a young Juande Ramos during those seven years with Betis.

Atletico Madrid expect long-term commitment

In more recent times, there’s one Spanish side in particular are content to tie their players down. Atletico Madrid has known great stability under Argentine playing favourite and now boss Diego Simeone.

Embarking on his ninth season in charge of Atleti, Simeone has masterminded two Europa League crowns, Copa del Rey success and a La Liga title triumph.

The club has moved stadiums during his tenure and remain the most consistent challengers to cross-capital rivals Real and Barca in Spanish football.

Simeone inspires confidence and loyalty in those who play for him. Is it all that surprising, then, that midfield Saul and Koke committed themselves?

Saul signed a nine-year deal back in 2017, while Koke also penned a seven-year contract. They’re both products of the Atleti academy whose best years are arguably yet to come.

Such is Simeone’s stock that highly sought after teenage talent Joao Felix chose his team over a host of European rivals.

The Portuguese wonderkid cost £113,000,000 but is locked into a seven-year deal ahead of a much anticipated debut campaign in La Liga.

That’s the fourth most expensive transfer of all-time by the way. Some of the longest contracts in football involve Atleti, who should remain a force despite the departure of France forward Antoine Griezmann.

Pardew had one of the longest contracts in football for coaches

Newcastle United gave Alan Pardew one of the longest contracts in football for a manager ever
Newcastle United gave Alan Pardew one of the longest contracts in football for a manager ever.

As of Williams signing his nine-year deal at Bilbao, Alan Pardew’s eight-year contract with Newcastle United from 2012 still has a season to run. He lasted just over a quarter of it when leaving Tyneside at the end of 2014.

Pardew has since managed twice – his old playing side Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion with disastrous results.

It’s hard to believe his stock was once so high that controversial Newcastle owner Mike Ashley sanctioned that deal. Hats off to Pardew’s agent.

The lesson here is how fickle football has become. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, yet this was never a good move from supposedly shrewd businessman Ashley.

The only example in recent times of a high-profile Premier League boss truly leaving on his own terms is Sir Alex Ferguson.

Making an example out of Pardew here is solely down to it being one of the longest contracts in football management ever.

Goalies getting long-term deals makes more sense

If there’s one area of the pitch where stability is essential, then it’s between the posts. Chopping and changing goalkeepers has never been a recipe for success.

Sometimes though, a new broom sweeps clean. Cue Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Joe Hart was supposed to be the stopper for a generation at the Etihad, but the new Spanish boss simply wasn’t convinced.

After first going back to old club Barcelona for Chile keeper Claudio Bravo, Guardiola went in the market again for Ederson from Benfica.

Two Premier League titles, a historic domestic treble and a first Copa America for Brazil in 12 years later, he was definitely onto a winner.

Ederson has fully justified the seven-year deal Man City handed him on leaving Portugal so far.

For all he doesn’t actually do that much goalkeeping because the players in front are invariably in possession, he has seldom put a foot wrong when called upon.

The same can’t be said of Kepa Arrizabalaga at Chelsea. Like Ederson, the Spaniard signed a seven-year deal in the Premier League leaving Bilbao as Real Madrid went in for Thibaut Courtois.

Kepa fatally undermined then Blues boss Maurizio Sarri during the League Cup final by refusing to be substituted after appearing injured. Chelsea went on to lose to Man City – with Ederson in goal – on penalties.

Although the Stamford Bridge side went on taste Europa League glory, Sarri got a face saving return to Italy with Juventus.

Kepa’s seven-year deal with Chelsea is much longer than any manager has lasted since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich took ownership in 2003.

And yet tying goalies down to some of the longest contracts in football makes sense. They play on a lot longer than outfield personnel and there’s usually less competition for places.

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