The Sport Business Summit 2016: Spotlight On The Murky World Of Football Player Transfers:

img_0772“England simply do not have the same aura of old. Opposition teams are no longer cowed in their presence”. This was the conclusion of the Guardian newspaper’s football writers, Daniel Taylor and Dominic Fifield following the 0-0 draw with Slovenia on 11th October. They pointed out that matches abroad against England no longer appear to attract large crowds, hence “one of the noticeable things about the match was the number of empty seats in Ljuljana’s Stadion Stzice”. This is also likely to be reflected in the UK viewing figures for the event (transmitted by ITV) issued by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB).

The English squad’s waning image and its repeated failure in the UEFA Euro and FIFA World Cup competitions is invariably attributed to two key factors: The huge salaries paid to most Premiership “stars”, which means (so it is claimed) they are mainly focused on performing well for their club rather than obtaining the “honour” of being selected for the national squad. Secondly, as Sky News has observed: “There are so many foreign footballers in the Premier League that many young English players can’t get into the first teams” and so instead are sent out on loan.

Statistics published by “Total Sportek” show that what the Premier League clubs have to pay in wages to attract and keep the “top players” continues to soar. In the current 2016/17 season, this alone will cost Manchester City £225 million , compared to £193.8m in 2015-16; Manchester United £220.8m; Chelsea £218m; Arsenal £200m; Liverpool £165m; Tottenham £121.2m. The present champions, Leicester City, pay out somewhat less: £66m, compared to £48.2m last season.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that – accordingly to information handed out by FIFA TMS (Transfer Matching System) at the recent “Leaders Sport Business Summit” at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge from 5th-6th October – summer 2016 broke all the records for international transfer activity: “Once again, England led the way with 470 incoming transfers and $US 1.17 billion spent”. As the FIFA TMS publication also notes, what sets England apart from the other “Big 5” countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, France) is “not only the high number of clubs that can afford to invest on the international transfer market but also that they spend significantly more than their counterparts abroad do: The top three spending English clubs engaged players for $US 512 million – almost as much as all clubs from Germany ($US 522 million)”.

A considerable proportion of this expenditure was incurred in payment to intermediaries: “Once again, spending on commissions to intermediaries by the Big 5 has reached a new high at $US260 million, 35% more than in the summer of 2015”. The involvement of agents in transfers has long been a controversial issue. Figures disclosed by the English Football Association (FA) indicate that, in the 2015/16 season, Manchester United paid over £10 million to intermediaries, followed by Liverpool (£6,672,713), Manchester City (£5,880,098) and Arsenal (£3,135,483).

In April 2015, FIFA replaced its Players’ Agents Regulations with new rules on “Working with Intermediaries”. The objective was “to establish a more transparent system that is easier to implement and administer by the football associations around the world”. Particular concern had been provoked by the growing practice  of “Third Party Ownership” (TPO), whereby (as the “Daily Telegraph” reported), a company or agent owned all or part of the financial rights to a player, so they, rather than the football club, benefited from transfer fees every time the player was sold.

It was thus in the third party’s interest “to sell the player as often as possible” to gain maximum money from the transfers” – which Michel Platini, the former UEFA President, described as “a form of modern-day slavery”. The signing of the Argentinians Carlos Tevez and Javier Masherano by West Ham in 2006 is frequently cited as a particularly prominent example.

Under the new FIFA regulations, intermediaries “do not need to take an exam and hold a licence like agents before, but they need to register at their national Football Association. Before paying the registration fee” they must provide evidence that they have an “impeccable” reputation and no criminal record. Jonathan Barnett, a board member of the Association of Football Agents (AFA) was from the outset unconvinced at the wisdom of these reforms: “Many of these so-called intermediaries will not have the skills or knowledge to look after the well-being of their players, even if they have the best intentions”. Furthermore, there’s a risk that the changes “will lead to widespread corruption and match-fixing”.

This warning would appear to have been justified. On 27th September, the England Manager, Sam Alardyce, was sacked after only 67 days in the job – mainly because he had offered advice to two “undercover” journalists from the “Daily Telegraph” on how to “bypass TPO rules and had proposed a fee of £400,000 for providing this service. The Telegraph began investigating wrongdoing in English football last year after obtaining information that specific, officials and agents, as well as ten managers, were taking or receiving cash payments to secure player transfers. According to columnist Tom Bower in the Sunday Times on 2nd October “For the past 30 years, the FA’s executives have done their best to ignore or conceal unethical payments between managers, agents and players” – much to the benefit of “the mavericks, tycoons and opportunists who own ‘the beautiful game’ and dislike regulations or any investigation of their money trail”.

Kimberly Morris, the Head of the FIFA TMS Integrity Compliance (I&C) Department, emphasizes that its main role is to monitor the international transfer of all professional players, including minors. Intermediaries are not allowed to receive any sort of payment until the player they represent is over the age of 18.img_0783img_0753img_0784img_0757dsc_0253img_0781


Filed under: Sports | Posted on October 18th, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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