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Arsenal & St Étienne could be poised for a legal battle over a €2.5m bonus in the William Saliba deal

St Étienne are currently patiently waiting to hear when their Coupe de France final with PSG will be scheduled – they have €2.5m riding on it, according to L’Équipe.

ASSE sources indicate that the match is due to be scheduled for Saturday 8th August, with Claude Puel having already provisionally scheduled a 15th June return to training. Despite the vocal opposition from co-president Ronald Romeyer about the possibility of this cup final being played without supporters owing to COVID-19, the club will not boycott the match if it is to be played behind closed doors.

Principally because the economic impact of that would be too considerable – the cup winner will earn €1.5m, the other finalist will receive €950k. An additional €2.5m is also up for grabs, but only if William Saliba plays, as part of a clause in their deal with Arsenal for the centre-back’s transfer brokered back in July of 2019. However, this clause will only become active if William Saliba gets to feature.

Arsenal agreed to pay €25m for Saliba last summer, but that fee can rise to €30m if two clauses, each worth €2.5m are activated. The first, is that this sum will be transferred to St Étienne in the event that Arsenal qualify for the Champions’ League at any point whilst Saliba is under contract with them.

The second €2.5m would be St Étienne’s if he had made 17 starts this season in all competitions. Arsenal actually included this clause on their own accord, as an incentive to ensure that Saliba received sufficient playing time whilst spending the 2019/20 campaign back on loan. Initially, Arsenal wanted the clause to be activated if Saliba represented St Étienne 30 times over the course of this season, but the Gunners also insisted upon including a clause in the loan whereby the Ligue 1 side required the London club’s express permission to play Saliba more than once in any given week.

ASSE understandably pointed out the incongruence of such an approach, and thus were able to negotiate the amount of starts required for the clause to be activated to 17. This was contractually defined as starting a third of all possible St Étienne competitive matches in the 2019/20 campaign – before the premature end of this season, ASSE would have played 52 matches.

Saliba actually has appeared for Les Verts 17 times this season, 12 matches in Ligue 1, 3 in the Coupe de France and 2 in the Europa League. However, he has started only 16 of them, making a substitute appearance in the 89th minute against Nîmes back in September.

St Étienne can reasonably argue that in spirit, they respected their contract with Arsenal as it pertains to this bonus. Despite an operation in August and a fracture of the fifth metatarsus of his left foot in November, Saliba did not spend the season on the bench. As soon as he was ready to play, ASSE made him play and progress.

But if Arsenal apply the letter of the law, ASSE will miss out on €2.5m in bonuses, with €1.75m of this particular bonus, if triggered, having been due and payable on 30th June. Unless Saliba starts in the Coupe de France final, which is now due to occur in August. The only way that this happens, is if Arsenal agree to extend the Frenchman’s loan. In theory, AFC should recognise that this cup final is a match to occur in the 2019/20 season, despite the shifted calendar.

However, relations between the two clubs have been far from ideal since the arrival of Claude Puel at the helm, and the French newspaper speculates that this situation could quickly turn into a legal battle.

ASSE hope to resolve the matter by 30th June, owing to their already precarious budgetary situation…

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