In case you thought the controversy surrounding Camilo Sanvezzo's move to Queretaro was moving swiftly toward a resolution, think again. On the same day that Queretaro released photos of Camilo wearing their shirt -- and reportedly are planning a press conference to formally announce his signing -- the Vancouver Whitecaps reaffirmed their stance that they believe he's currently under contract with them.
The MLS offseason always seems to have a few quirky moves, but the league has never seen anything quite like this and it's entirely possible it could have some widely felt results. At the core of this is MLS's ability to exercise what is commonly know as a "unilateral option," basically meaning that the player has no say in the matter. This is an entirely common practice within the single-entity of MLS, but it's not generally how the rest of the world works. Of course, single-entity is a unique setup, at least in the world of soccer, so we're kind of use to that kind of thing around here. (Check out the blog Maple Leaf Forever for a more complete rundown of how this has played out elsewhere.)
What Camilo seems to be doing, then, is challenging one of the very foundations of the league. Up until now, the teams have held virtually all of the power when it came to contracts. If a player is unhappy about the money they are owed in their option year, there's not really much they can do aside from demand a trade or threaten not to show up to training camp. The only real option for players was to wait until they were out of contract and then try their luck in a different league, which assuming the Whitecaps and MLS understand the contracts they are having players sign, did not happen here.
While this arrangement has never been formally challenged by a player, FIFA has never given any indication that they were strongly objecting to this policy either. At the very least, FIFA is almost certainly going to have to make a ruling as to whether or not MLS has the right to have unilateral contract options.
Regardless of FIFA's decision, it's unlikely to be of little solace to the Whitecaps, though, and it probably won't be all good for the league, either. The best-case scenario form, at this point, is likely some forced compensation (and maybe Camilo's agent loses his license).
Camilo is coming off a Golden Boot-winning season in which he also scored what was voted as the Goal of the Year. The Whitecaps will almost certainly lose a player who contributed to 28 of their 53 goals (22 goals, six assists). The league will be losing someone who was quickly becoming one of the few must-see talents, one that happens to still be just 25 years old and has plenty of good soccer ahead of him.
The best-case scenario for Camilo could also be a boon for the players' union, though, albeit a massive hit against the league's business plan. If FIFA rules that Camilo was within his rights to ignore the Whitecaps' exercising of his option, that gives the union a massive card to play in the upcoming labor negotiations. Can the league survive in a world where players yield that much power? I'd like to think so, but that is obviously something that hasn't entirely been tested.
Either way, this has turned into an absolutely must-watch saga.