Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.


By way of reminder, FC Twente is the typical example of a professional football club who had been “punching above its weight” for years. After taking over the club in 2003, president Joop Munsterman and his fellow associates took extreme financial risks in order to overtake clubs like PSV and Ajax as the best club in the Netherlands. At first they were successful, but winning the Dutch league in 2010 did not prove enough for the overambitious executives of FC Twente. The club started spending more money than ever on the transfer marker and new massive loans were taken to upgrade the stadium to Champion League standards. Unfortunately, all this extra spending did not materialize in extra sporting successes. Furthermore, the money derived from selling players was not sufficient to service the debt incurred in the process.

Yet, the scope of FC Twente’s financial trouble did not become apparent until November 2015. It was then that footballleaks released the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA), or TPO agreement, the club had signed with the Maltese investment company Doyen. The fine prints of the ERPA, explained in our blog of 2 December, took everyone by surprise, including the KNVB’s licensing committee. More than the precarious state of the club’s finances, it was the fact that FC Twente had deliberately mislead the KNVB regarding its relationship with Doyen that shocked the Dutch federation.[1]

As an immediate reaction to Twente’s omissions, on 15 December, the licensing committee decided to conditionally withdraw FC Twente’s license, unless the club collaborates fully to an independent internal investigation into its structure and governance. Moreover, the licensing committee sanctioned FC Twente with a €45,250 fine and a three-year exclusion from participating in European competitions. The report of the internal investigation, published on 1 March 2016, highlighted the complete lack of transparency in transfer matters, i.e. all the transfers and their financing were taken care of by vice-president Van der Laan without the involvement of other board members. The ‘Additional Agreement’ signed with Doyen, for example, was never mentioned in any of the board meetings. The report also brought to light a fresh case of deliberate deceit of the licensing committee in the transfer of Dusan Tadic to Southampton the summer of 2014. According to FC Twente’s original disclosure to the KNVB, Tadic’s agent would receive €1.8 million, which was 15% of the transfer amount. However, in January 2016, a month after FC Twente promised full collaboration in the investigation, it suddenly turned out that Tadic’s agent still had a claim of €1.8 million based on a second agreement between him and the club regarding the same transfer. Not only was this second agreement never notified to the licensing committee, it was also never mentioned to the investigators during several meetings held in December 2015. 

The licensing committee’s decision

In a nutshell, the licensing committee decided to unconditionally withdraw FC Twente’s license, but to simultaneously grant it a new license so that it is permitted to play in the Dutch second professional league. The committee held that:

“The Dutch licensing system was repeatedly, deliberately and systematically undermined by FC Twente and the licensing committee was repeatedly, intentionally and purposely misled. This behavior undermines the functioning of the licensing system, contributes to an unfair competition between professional football clubs, creates income for FC Twente it would not have obtained under fair conditions (e.g. income from the selling of TV rights) and leads to player transfers that possibly would not have taken place had the club behaved ethically.”[2]

It added that it had already considered an unconditional withdrawal of the license in December 2015, but decided against it because it needed more information, such as an independent report. The licensing committee’s conclusions drawn from the report was twofold. On the one hand, the licensing committee praised the fact that FC Twente collaborated with the investigation, that it promised to continue with the reorganization of the club’s governance structure after  a new license was granted[3] and that it will not ask for a UEFA license for the next three seasons.[4]

On the other hand, the licensing committee felt it needed to act as a consequence of the new information regarding the Tadic transfer. The committee determined that the “Doyen Gate” was not an isolated incident, but that it fitted in a pattern of systematic unethical behavior by FC Twente’s management. Consequently, it concluded that FC Twente had breached Article 9 of the Dutch license regulation, which requires a license holder (i.e. a professional football club) to timely provide the licensing committee all the relevant information and documents regarding the club’s financial situation, transfer details, etc. Interestingly enough, the license regulation offers only two sanction possibilities for breaching Article 9: A fine of maximum €45.250 under Article 11(1); or the complete withdrawal of the license under Article 12(2)c). The option to sanction a club with a relegation to the lower divisions is currently not an option, as stipulated by the license committee in paragraph 9 of its decision.

The lack of alternative options proved to be problematic for the licensing committee because it found a fine of €45.250, given the circumstances, disproportionately light, but the decision to withdraw the license disproportionately heavy.[5] A complete license withdrawal could realistically lead to the disappearance of FC Twente, a football club with (as held by the licensing committee) an important role in the Enschede region. “The licensing committee is aware that the effects (of a collapse) could be disastrous for FC Twente, its employees, financers, supporters and professional football in the region”.[6] With this statement, the licensing committee is demonstrating that it is taking into account inter alia the guarantee issued by the municipality of Enschede on a loan of €32 million for FC Twente in December 2015, under the condition that the club would obtain a license. Without this loan, FC Twente would have gone bankrupt. In the end, the licensing committee came up with the rather pragmatic solution to withdraw unconditionally FC Twente’s license, immediately followed by the granting of a new license to participate in the second professional league, “in order to limit the disproportionate consequences of the license withdrawal”.[7]

What makes the licensing committee’s decision worthy of debate is that the regulations, strictly speaking, do not provide for the option to replace a first division license with a second division license. The committee admits that it has sought the limits of the licensing regulations, but defends its decision by stating it is sanctioning FC Twente for its past actions in a proportionate manner while taking into account the interests of the club and its stakeholders.  


In an official statement following the decision, FC Twente declared that its currently studying all its options. Although an appeal remains one of the possibilities, one could argue that it might be too risky for FC Twente to do so. Concretely, an appeal would probably lead to a sanction that actually exists under the regulations: A fine of €45.250 or an unconditional withdrawal of a license. A more interesting issue is whether any other professional club might consider questioning this decision. Clubs who believe to have been placed in a disadvantageous position as a result of FC Twente’s deliberate and systematic deceit, could argue that the current sanction does not address the gravity of the misconduct. Moreover, the fact that the sanction is not enshrined in the KNVB’s regulations, could make it difficult for the licensing committee to uphold it in an appeal procedure.

This decision puts the final nail in FC Twente’s coffin. The surprising rise and brutal downfall of the Dutch club exemplifies the advantages and downsides of TPO. This practice (and other financial tricks linked to the transfer system) enabled Twente to leverage up and make the impossible possible (winning the Eredivisie), but at the same time strapped it with an unsustainable debt that has brought the club to its knees. Basically, fans must choose between a few seconds (or years) of glory on the one hand, or a sustainable future for their club on the other.

[1] FC Twente had not disclosed to the KNVB an Annex, called ‘Additional Agreement’, to the ERPA that insinuated far-reaching influence by Doyen in employment and transfer-related matters, thereby breaching FIFA and KNVB Regulations.

[2] The licensing committee’s decision, page 1.

[3] In this regard it should be noted that four FC Twente board members resigned in March as a result of the report. See “FC Twente geeft toelichting op onderzoeksrapport Knüppe” (

[4] The licensing committee’s decision, page 3.

[5] Ibid., page 4.

[6] Ibid., page 5.

[7] Ibid.

Comments are closed