The Coconut Club: Is it legal to ban football players? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 14.04.2016
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The Coconut Club: Is it legal to ban football players?

Imagine being a professional soccer player who is told to agree to a salary cut of more than 50 percent. Would you sign? Sebino Plaku didn't, and he said what followed was five months of psychological abuse at his club.

A professional soccer player from Albania thought he had a dream job when he signed with first division Polish side Slask Wroclaw. It did not take long for the opportunity to turn into a nightmare. That's because after coming off an injury he was asked to agree to an addendum in his contract that would have seen his salary cut by more than half.

On August 28, 2014, Sebino Plaku said he was told by the president of the club, Pawel Zelem, through an interpreter that if he didn't sign, "then we will destroy your career."

Alleged psychological abuse

Plaku, now 30 years old, told DW that he refused to sign, and that's when he said he had to endure five months of humiliation and psychological abuse. He was no longer allowed to practice with his team, and in fact, was forced to train mainly alone. Occasionally he was put on the reserve team's squad. He also claimed he was ostracized from most team activities, ate alone, and cameras were set up on the pitch to record whether he was training intensely enough. He even had to distribute the club's newspapers.

Polen albanischer Fußballspieler Sebino Plaku

Sebino Plaku signed with Slask Wroclaw hoping to continue his footballing dream, but instead he lived a nightmare

This kind of treatment went on for five months. Slask Wroclaw defended their actions by claming Plaku wasn't in shape. Plaku denies that, calling it "ridiculous."

In fact, he had a promising career in Poland and had earlier played for Albania's national youth teams. A few months before he was injured, he had scored for Slask Wroclaw in a Europa League match win over Belgium's Club Brugge.

A tribunal for Poland's football federation ultimately dissolved Plaku's contract, but didn't allocate blame to anyone which meant that the club didn't have to shell out almost 200,000 euros ($226,000) in back pay.

Case before the bourts

Plaku appealed, filing a complaint through his Polish lawyer Marcin Kwiecien to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In response to questions from DW, Slask Wroclaw media spokesperson Krzysztof Świercz wrote: "WKS Śląsk Wrocław SA kindly informs that contract of the player S. Plaku with our Club was resolved with rigor of immediate feasibility in February 2015. National Dispute Resolution Chamber, which is a jurisdictional body of PZPN, did it without apportioning blame and without compensation to the player.There will not be more comments about it."

Cell phone video

However, Plaku also took videos of himself on his cell phone over those five months in order to record what he went through at the Polish club. He sent that cell phone footage to the Court. DW also has a copy.

Polen Fußball-Mannschaft Slask Wroclaw

Sebino Plaku documented his alleged abuse with his cellphone camera

In the videos, he is training alone, being forced to change in a very messy boy's changing room, and eating alone in between his second and third training sessions. He also gives a tour of the first team's locker room where everyone else has the team's new Adidas attire hanging in their stalls while Plaku was left with his old Puma kit.

He makes some biting remarks in English, especially when he is in the boys' locker room: "And as you see, I have to find a place here to change myself and then to go on the ‘show training' with the kids. This is the place that I have to change. So, this is the way the club is treating me."

Plaku now plays for Skënderbeu Korçë in Albania's top league, the club he left to join Slask Wroclaw in 2013.

Retribution for "The Coconut Club"

The world's main players' union for football players, FIFPro, is supporting Plaku's case. Plaku told the organization that even when he was given a few days off for Christmas, he had to wear a PGS tracker to show that he was training every day and ordered not to put on even a kilo of weight.

"They did not want me to rest," he told FIFPro.

FIFPro has now nicknamed the category of players banned from a team "The Coconut Club." The term was coined after Polish player Daniel Kokosinski had endured similar treatment in 2009 - the Polish word "kokos" translates to "coconut."

In fact, being banished from the first team for not agreeing to new terms of a contract is something that occurs all over Europe. Similar incidents have even been reported in the Premier League and the Bundesliga. The decision by CAS is expected any day now, and could well have a major impact on club-player relations.