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Footballer Sebino Plaku is going to the top sports tribunal tomorrow (Friday) to try and smash years of harassment by clubs in Poland.

The teammate of former England striker Mark Hateley’s son said he was ordered to train in the morning, afternoon and evening for six days a week when he refused to reduce his salary to less than half of what was agreed in his contract.

Some of the time he trained alone with a camera fixed on him to check that he was not slacking during a 15-hour day. He was also ordered to do humiliating chores like handing out club newspapers in a shopping centre, training in old kit and supervising the training of seven year old children. A few months earlier he had scored for the club, Slask Wroclaw, in a UEFA Europa League match win against Club Brugge of Belgium.

Sending players to train in isolation is so common in Polish football that it has its own term: being in the “Coconut Club.” The term is named after the player Daniel “Kokos” Kokosinski who was harassed in the same way at Polonia Warsaw in 2009. Kokos means coconut in Polish.

Polish players union PZP, which is a member of international union FIFPro, is handling the case of several players who have been isolated from the first-team squad.

Plaku said he was told by the club in 2014 he had to reduce his pay to 5,000 euros from 14,000 euros per month because the club was going through financial difficulties. He endured 14-hour days for more than five months. The club refused his offer to cut his pay by 25 percent, or go out on loan to another team.

 “They did everything to destroy my mind,” Plaku, 30, said. “They nearly did. I twice thought about stopping football. Once was when my wife who was pregnant said: Sebo, why are you doing this? I told her I was doing it for her and our son.”

Teammates including Tom Hateley, whose father played for England in the 1980s, Portuguese twins Flavio and Marco Paixao and Brazilian Dudu Paraiba offered him support.

“They were good friends and said 'stay strong' but there was nothing they could do,” Plaku, an Albanian, said. “I was the black sheep and they were afraid of supporting me publicly.”

Even when he was given a few days off at Christmas, he was instructed to wear a GPS tracker to show that he was training every day and ordered not to put on even a kilo of weight, he said. “They did not want me to rest,” he said.

Eventually, after rescinding fines totaling 40,000 euros for being a few minutes late for training and attending an employment tribunal, the Polish football federation dissolved his contract, without attributing any fault to the club. That meant he did not receive any compensation. The club had claimed that he was not at the required level to play for the first team any more.

Tomorrow he is challenging the federation’s decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. If he wins the case, he may seek compensation. The club saved itself 200,000 euros by not honoring his contract.

In 2012, CAS ruled in favour of Igor Strelkov in a contract dispute with FC Krylia Sovetov during which the Russian footballer was ordered to run around a snow-covered field for three hours a day on his own while his teammates were training in Turkey. The court said in a written judgement that "any instructions regarding training should be reasonable."


Sebino Plaku’s 15-hour day:

06:45: leaves home

07:15: arrives at club to be let in by overnight security guard, the only member of staff there at that time. “If I was 1 minute late they would punish me with a 5,000 euro fine,” Plaku said.

08:00: watched by trainer, runs at least 10 kilometers in park before returning to training ground for more work.

10:00: showers, exchanges a few quick words with arriving teammates; dashes home to eat and avoid another fine.

13:15: arrives for second training session in gym.

14:00: starts gym workout with another trainer. He is filmed to make sure he was keeping to program.

16:00: gym session ends. Showers or eats from a plastic container in the changing room; not enough time for both.

17:45 arrives for third training session after 45-minute drive 

18:30 trains with second team.

20:00 exhausted, finishes training for day; showers.

21:30 arrives home


Plaku training schedule 640