Simpleton rules – Directors of Football, bungs, backhanders. FIFA laws ignored by all.
A couple of years ago I was home for a short holiday when a Russian agent asked me to translate for him and review contract documents related to a transfer. As he’d helped me out with a couple of sponsor introductions for a tennis player, I was only too happy to help.
His client had an EU passport and was free, his Russian Premier club not showing enough cash to keep him. An English Premier side had come in for him and offered a very solid two-year deal with a large signing on fee. I called an English number and spoke with the club’s new Director of Football.
I introduced myself and right off he asked what my angle was. I explained I was going to translate and assist for the agent. He told me I’d have to be paid from the agent or player, it was nothing to do with him (he never once mentioned the club). I didn’t answer him.
The contract was copied to me and I read it, along with some additional documentation and prepared a report for the Russian agent and his client. A fee was to be paid to an agency for facilitating the deal, I noted this to the agent.
He needed clarification and when I asked the Director of Football, he told me he had “many, many other targets” he was looking at and didn’t need to explain, we took the deal or he’d move on. It smelled, so on my advice the contract was edited to remove the unknown agency and returned to the club. The English club didn’t respond. I phoned and was told the deal was off.
The player eventually signed a new contract with his old club. My interest as piqued so enquiring about the Director to an English agent, I was told straight that he the facilitating agency was his own (which turned out to be the truth). He was receiving payments from each transfer, the more free the player, the better for him to justify why the club had to pay a generous signing on bonus.
The new manager who came in demanded his removal, with the replacement Director of Football to be his own agent. The Manager, without a hint of irony, went on to claim that he was unable to sign his own players. It was the first time I’d heard of such behaviour in Britain, though until then I’d been operating with closed eyes, or rose tinted glasses.
Shortly after I’d an assistant manager for a League One club tell me that to sign our own client we would need to make sure he was sorted out. When our lawyer refused he turned nasty and told us we’d lose our client altogether. He was spot on.
Our client was contacted by a former National Team player (and then National Youth Coach) who was an unofficial agent for players from the Baltic country. While still under contract with our company the youngster signed for the English club and despite letters to the English FA for allowing the registration, as well as an affidavit with supporting evidence of the improper behaviour from the assistant and youth coach, in the two years since, nothing has been heard. The player failed to thrive in England and is back in his home country with a Premier club.
Two from two within a couple of months of each other and I began to question whether anything was legal, moral or honest in the game. As the Summer of 2013 came to a close I realised that to keep going in the sport I’d have to play the game.
I thought I’d not have to even rub up against it with all the English FA bluster about how clean the game is there and especially the media profile afforded to the greatest league in the World.
It was endemic in Croatia and Serbia when I worked there, in Russia it was normally coaches looking for bungs to sign or sell or release players, at Lokomotiv Moscow it was (is) the son-in-law of the President that takes an “interest” in who signs and is sold. But I did believe that in England it would be different, after all, it has been the English FA calling for transparency and change in FIFA!
There is a direct conflict of interest in agents or known operators coming into football clubs to work officially, especially when they receive financial rewards from player transfers they oversee.
My worst experience was in the cat and mouse chase for Niko Kranjcar from Dinamo Zagreb to Hajduk Split, with an AS Roma official and Spanish agent (who was/is employed by a Primera club) burning my ear trying to get him to a major league. However Niko’s agents had a plan and they were going to earn but make sure they maximised their investment.
The player would move to Hadjuk for a season and a half, win the league, play Champions League and go to England. His agent had a deal with Portsmouth to move him. Dinamo received no payment for the first transfer and his salary was paid by an “investor” during his time in Dalmatia.
When the transfer went through and 55% of the fee went to his agents, 25% to the investor, the remaining funds were split between the two Croatian clubs. It was just how business is done there.
In the 24 hour chase around Croatia the Italian and Spanish reps never let me off the hook, even though I had nothing to do with the deal, they needed me to “talk” with the Sports Director of Hadjuk and Niko.
At midday I turned off my phone and the next morning driving to the Poljud (Hajduk’s home stadium) the signs into Split were changed to “Nikograd”. Ten thousand fans turned up to greet him (I flew out to Prague as he flew in to Split) and he stepped closer to England. It was the footballing equivalent of taking a dive to get a title shot.
Dinamo’s virtual owners were willing to sell their best player and give up on the league so that they’d maximise their profit. Why? Because Niko was out of contract in June, but the two and a half year deal he signed in Split meant that his onward move would make money.
In 2006 he moved on to Portsmouth and has continued to move since – Spurs, Dinamo Kiev and now QPR. Niko is not only a fan’s favourite, he’s a Manager’s favourite too.
All of what I have described above is in clear contravention of FIFA’s laws. Third party ownership. Transfer monies being under-reported. Coaches looking for bribes. Agents working within clubs. Club officials demanding payments.
Even from the simple income tax angle it’s illegal, but our governing bodies turn a blind eye and allow the bungs, backhanders and bribery to continue.
Coming soon – Part 2 – the Malta stories. False contracts for visas. Fake players. A place where the sun and FIFA forgot!