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Brexit? Negotiation is about goals!

David Bannister
© Stephan Oppliger |

Here in the UK, the news and social media is obsessed with negotiation – or, as some would have it, capitulation.  As the moment of that final deadline nears (again!) and we all prepare for a life of isolation with grounded airliners and gridlocked motorways on the way to our main ports, my attention was attracted by a story which started with a negotiation about 3 years ago in Monaco.

At that time a young man called Antony Martial was playing football for FC Monaco, a team he had joined two years earlier for a fee of 6 million Euros.  Along came Manchester United and paid £36 million to take Martial to their Old Trafford home base.  “Pretty good”, I hear you say - a return of about seven hundred percent in two years.  However, this was not all of the deal.  Just last week, I was at Old Trafford watching Manchester United playing Newcastle United in the English Premier League.  In the second half, the very same Antony Martial scored an equalising goal and Manchester United had to write a cheque for £8.7 million to FC Monaco.

All this was the result of some astute tactical negotiating in 2015.  When the deal was done and Martial moved clubs, he did so in a deal which included several components.  One of those was that when he had scored 25 goals for his new team at any stage in the 4 year contract he had signed, a payment now equivalent to £8.7 million would be triggered.  In addition, if he plays 25 times for his home country, France, then a similar payment would become due.  If all of this becomes too much for Manchester United and they decide to cash in on their asset, then Monaco thought of that as well and will, I read, be entitled to 50% of any profit above the fee paid for him in 2015.

Going back to the vexed issue of Brexit, much of the press coverage is speculating about the length of time the UK will be tied to transitional arrangements, how long there will be ‘backstop’ conditions and what we will have to pay for everything.  All of this should remind us how important an issue time can be when we negotiate.  Competent negotiators know that the more they can increase the value of variables they introduce into a negotiation, the greater the flexibility they will be able to use in reaching a deal, potentially increasing their ability to leverage the returns to their advantage.  The more goals Martial scores over time, the more his national team will show interest, the more valuable he may become on the inflated transfer market and, therefore, thought the negotiators at Monaco, the more we should be asking for him, so they build into the deal future value elements which gave rise to that £8.7 million cheque.

The lesson from all of this is that, as research has shown, working creatively with the negotiating variables helps to enhance value and can enrich the deal.  Moreover, recognising that time is the ultimately flexible variable in a negotiation and using it imaginatively ignoring intuitive constraints can make the deal pay long into the future.

As for me, I just want him to keep putting the ball in the net!

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