Today we highlight Montenegrin player union Sindikat Profesionalnih Fudbalera Crne Gore (SPFCG), which will be hosting the general assembly of FIFPRO Division Europe on 24 and 25 May in Budva.
Zeljko Janovic learned about player unions when he was a professional footballer in France, Portugal and Spain. “I noticed their importance for football players. When I returned to Montenegro, I realised that players in our country also needed a union.”
Zeljko first helped set up an athletes’ union, and later established the Sindikat Profesionalnih Fudbalera Crne Gore (SPFCG) in 2009. “We decided that we wanted to focus on football players, as football is the most popular sport in Montenegro.”
Zeljko teamed up with Vladimir Krsmanovic, who, like him was working for the country’s trade union. Thirteen years later they are still together: Zeljko is the President and Vladimir acts as General Secretary.
“Professional football in Montenegro now looks totally different, and we can say that some of that improvement is the result of our work”, Vladimir told FIFPRO.
In the early years, Zeljko and Vladimir visited dressing rooms to educate players what the union could do for them. “In our country, most people did not consider professional footballers to be workers. We really had to educate players. That perception has changed.”
What hasn’t changed is that Vladimir and Zeljko are close with the players. “That is the advantage of working in a small country, it is much easier to frequently visit the players.”
The SPFCG became a FIFPRO member in 2012, which helped them develop. “As part of a social dialogue working group, delegations from FIFPRO, UEFA, ECA, and European Leagues visited our country. When these international organisations visit your country and give you recommendations, then it is easier to achieve your goals or to negotiate. It helped us get a more structured social dialogue with the football association.”
“We try to implement all FIFPRO policies. If something is good at European level, it could also be good at our national level. We know that the situation in Great Britain, Montenegro, and the Netherlands is different, but we try to adapt policies as best as possible to our country’s situation.”
Montenegro is one of Europe’s smaller football nations, with a population of just over 600,000 people and a top league of ten clubs. One of the goals of the union is to make football more professional in their country. “One of our achievements is that all clubs in the top division must have at least five players with a professional contract”, said Vladimir.
He lists other achievements such as the implementation of a standard player contract, helping over a 100 players with disputes, signing Memorandums of Understanding with the football association, organising training camps for players without a contract, introducing an online university study for players with the Minister of Education (“with a huge discount for members”), and arranging that contracts were temporarily extended during the Covid-19 pandemic. “That secured at least two monthly salaries for all players, as their contracts were about to expire, because ninety percent of players have one-year deals.”
The SPFCG also participated in a working group that drafted a sports law, which defines players as workers. “It gives us a legal basis for negotiating a bargaining agreement. We would like to sign one in the near future, but I think all player unions would like to do that.” Currently there are no talks going on, but the union is preparing its strategic document for the negotiations.
Two other goals are developing women’s football and introducing better insurance for players. “We hope to implement it next year. We’ve worked on it for years, as it was difficult to find an insurance company that will create a special programme for football players.”
Working for players
“We are proud of the recognition of our players. When clubs and agents don’t want to help them, then they know that they can count on us,” Vladimir said.
“Players don’t play for fifteen years in Montenegro. After two years they go abroad and then come back years later. But when they have a problem abroad, they first contact us, because they know us personally.”
“Now, more and more players are sending us their contract before they sign with a club. For example, one player who participated in our training camp went to clubs in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Serbia. He always contacted us to have his contract checked.”
General assembly FIFPRO Europe
Organising the general assembly for Division Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, according to Vladimir. “We want to show the players in our country, and all the stakeholders, that we are part of a great international organisation. It will improve our status and our players will benefit from that. And of course we are honoured to be the host of all our colleagues working at other player unions.”