Football’s most laughable add-ons and clauses that were dismissed out of hand

Matt Stead
Christian Benteke reacts after missing against Arsenal

Manchester United love a Ballon d’Or clause, Arsenal like to play the Champions League card and Liverpool are used to rejecting some pretty daft add-ons.

Some clubs go all Football Manager with transfer clauses. Arsenal are trying to find West Ham’s sweet spot over Declan Rice but an apparent add-on regarding the Gunners winning the Premier League and Champions League, as reported by The Times, is unlikely to move things along.

That is not the first transfer clause that a selling club has rejected out of hand. Arsenal themselves have previous.


Sadio Mane – Liverpool to Bayern Munich
While the perennial German champions did eventually get their man, it took a bit more finesse than one might expect. Sadio Mane wanted the move for a fresh challenge and Liverpool were happy to oblige in a continued restructuring of their attack, but Bayern had to get serious first.

After an opening offer of £21m plus an extra £4m in add-ons was scoffed at by Liverpool, Bayern came back to the table with, as reported by the well-connected Paul Joyce of The Times, a bid which could theoretically reach £30m. Fair enough. That seems like a perfectly sensible progression in negotiations.

Oh hold on. It would have only qualified for that top figure if Bayern won the Champions League and Mane the Ballon d’Or over each season of his three-year contract, triggering a £6.5m payment. In return for Mane becoming the third player to win three consecutive Ballons d’Or, and Bayern the second club to win the Champions League thrice in a row. Sounds about right.

One year in, he scored 12 goals in 38 games as the Bavarians were humbled in the quarter-final by Manchester City. No wonder Liverpool mocked those ‘laughable’ bonuses.


Aaron Wan-Bissaka – Crystal Palace to Manchester United
There were a couple of clauses contained within the final deal which saw Aaron Wan-Bissaka leave Crystal Palace for Manchester United. It remains the case that the latter would owe the former 10% of any subsequent sale of the right-back for more than £50m. The £5m worth of add-ons to supplement the initial £45m fee were thought to be based on appearances, of which he has made 108 in the Premier League and 160 in all competitions.

But Manchester United would have had other contingencies written into the transfer if things had gone their way. It was reported during protracted negotiations that Palace were ‘unimpressed’ by the nature of the performance-related clauses, one of which was known to be an additional payment if Wan-Bissaka made 25 Champions League appearances for a club which had just qualified for the Europa League; four years later he is less than halfway there on 12.

Some outlets went one further and suggested that Manchester United pledged more money if they won the European Cup, despite not advancing beyond the quarter-finals since 2011. In Palace’s eyes, that was fairly accurately deemed by The Guardian ‘to be wildly unrealistic’.


Hugo Ekitike – Reims to Newcastle
“Newcastle positioned themselves, we discussed it, they made us an offer that did not suit us,” said Reims president Jean-Pierre Caillot of Hugo Ekitike in January. “As we do not really want him to leave, we have fixed the price quite high. They did offer us €35m all in, but with a number of bonuses, some of them quasi-impossible to reach. Like for example, winning the Champions League. We want €30m flat and €10m in achievable bonuses.”

The Ligue Un club were far more receptive to a summer approach. Newcastle had expected to complete a deal for striker Ekitike worth €36m, plus €10m in what were described by French sources as ‘easily attainable’ bonuses. Perhaps they started with just qualifying for the Champions League first. But an injury put the move in doubt and the Magpies moved on to other targets long before Paris Saint-Germain swooped. Eddie Howe probably doesn’t regret waiting for Alexander Isak instead.


Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United
After successfully reeling Monaco in with an add-on worth £7.6m if Anthony Martial was voted for the Ballon d’Or top three, Manchester United repeated the trick with Bruno Fernandes four and a half years later. They will owe Sporting Lisbon £4.2m for each of the first three times the Portuguese is named PFA Player of the Year or takes a place on the Ballon d’Or podium. The current tally stands at zero in either case.

United tried it again when it came to those complicated talks with Borussia Dortmund over Sancho. Despite having ‘forced the Germans’ into selling the winger in August 2020, Sancho inexplicably remained at the Westfalenstadion for almost 12 more months. Thirteen days after the delayed Euro 2020 final, in which the England international missed a shootout penalty, Manchester United finally had their man. But not before Dortmund shot down any idea of the overall fee being enhanced by that typical bonus due if Sancho finished in the top three of the Ballon d’Or vote.

As an aside, the last Manchester United player to take a podium place in Ballon d’Or voting was 2008 winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who also finished second in 2007. Before then, it was 1999 runner-up David Beckham, Eric Cantona’s third place in 1993 and then bronze for George Best in 1971. It’s hardly a regular occurrence.


Kieran Tierney – Celtic to Arsenal
When Kieran Tierney was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury that required surgery in early April 2022, Arsenal might have felt they had already established a substantial enough lead in the pursuit of Champions League qualification. The Gunners were fourth, four and six points clear of Manchester United and West Ham respectively, with a game in hand on both. Tottenham were a place further back and six points behind, with the north London rivals having 10 games left each. It should have been sewn up but Arsenal’s form collapsed, in part because of the reshuffling which Tierney’s absence forced. Arsenal lost their next three games to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton, then won four on the trot before imploding against Spurs and Newcastle to confirm their slip to fifth.

Celtic never believed in them. It was during talks over Tierney when the Scottish giants, having already rejected a £15m bid for the left-back, scoffed at the structure of a further £25m offer. One of the clauses pertained to Arsenal, Europa League runners-up at the time, qualifying for the Champions League. Celtic, according to Sky Sports, were ‘not convinced’ that was a ‘realistic’ outcome. Four years later, who’s laughing now?


Christian Benteke – Crystal Palace to Liverpool
An absolutely glorious clause, this. So good it needs to be retained in its original form, as written by Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph in August 2016:

‘Palace offered an initial £23.5 million with a further £7 million in add-ons. Those additional clauses included £2.5 million should Palace qualify for the Champions League with Benteke scoring 20 goals and playing in 70 per cent of the fixtures of such a top-four campaign. These three conditions formed part of the same clause.’

It turns out ‘this was not considered realistic on Merseyside’. Idiots. Just four days later, Alan Pardew praised a “brave” club-record deal worth £27m, plus £5m in presumably more sensible add-ons. Mind you, they only finished 10 places and 35 points off fourth place – Liverpool, funnily enough – with Benteke scoring 15 goals. But he did play 94.7% of their games. So close.