Time we saw through soccer’s dazzling numbers game

If ever Uefa should be minded to look for a more appropriate Champions League anthem, my nomination will be Liza Minnelli singing her Cabaret hit ‘Money Makes The World Go Round’.
Time we saw through soccer’s dazzling numbers game

You can find the song on YouTube, the highlight being the moment when Liza shimmers hypnotically across the stage whispering “money-money, money-money” like an addict looking for the next fix.

There is a similar combination of fascination and revulsion from reading the catalogue of fixes revealed last week by Rafael Buschmann and Michael Wulzinger of Der Spiegel in their book Football Leaks.

It is the biggest-ever exposure of the gravy train at the top of the game, although calling it a train is an understatement: It’s more like an entire railway.

Paul Pogba’s transfer from Juventus to Manchester United is what hit the headlines. Rightly so — €46m is quite a kickback. Beyond that is the way a supposedly competitive sport has been perverted into a game where one small group, the super agents such as Mino Raiola and Jorge Mendes, can never lose.

The grotesque inflation of salaries and fees has also involved clubs in some grotesque contract terms.

Paying a striker bonuses for scoring in addition to an extravagant salary is one example.

Is that truly necessary to motivate someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Scoring goals is his job.

Paying Mario Balotelli a bonus for staying on the pitch — or rather for not getting sent off three times — seems equally ludicrous.

And you wonder what Alex Ferguson thinks of the gagging clause inserted into Bastien Schweinsteiger’s contract. Surely a strong manager should not need that.

Crazy money and crazy contracts are not confined to the leading English clubs. The Bundesliga, which is a lot less extravagant than the Premier League, has also had problems.

Borussia Dortmund had a deal with Raiola where they ended up paying the agent if they sold Henrikh Mkhitaryan — and also if they didn’t sell him. Bayer Leverkusen’s contract with Javier Hernández gave his agent an extra €1.5m if the player remained with the club for two seasons. Not such a little pea after all.

Some of this was known, or suspected. But it is the documentation and the detail that is important. Der Spiegel and Football Leaks have done the game a service, especially the fans, because ultimately the money to pay for all this comes from the punters, as well as the public at large, through advertising etc.

Football is on a slippery slope, and it dates back years.

The diggers waste no time before moving in at White Hart Lane after Tottenham’s final match there on Sunday. Picture: @teamFA
The diggers waste no time before moving in at White Hart Lane after Tottenham’s final match there on Sunday. Picture: @teamFA

The Pogba story is an example.

Go back to 2006 and you find that his club, Le Havre, had a so-called “non-solicitation” agreement with his parents. This was the basis of their (failed) claim against United when Pogba announced his original move to Old Trafford in 2009. United were able to offer his parents financial incentives, so they moved with him and thus the deal conformed to the Fifa regulations on the transfer of young players.

Le Havre did get some money from the deal, unlike the two amateur clubs in the Paris suburbs — Roissy-en-Brie and Torcy — who also argued that their player had been poached without compensation, but by Le Havre.

Regulations are meant to deal with this type of situation, just as they are meant to prevent agents like Raiola skimming millions. He admitted last year in an interview with Simon Kuper of the Financial Times that his deal with Pogba involved a form of shared ownership, dating from before the Fifa ban on third-party ownership, but that it was “not TPO”.

Juventus in turn claimed that “no third party had any ownership of the player’s rights”.

There is a similar issue about the transfer of Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim to Liverpool, with a proportion of the fee allegedly ending up in an investment fund, although how much is disputed by the German club.

Last week Fifa’s beleaguered president Gianni Infantino called for investigations and blamed a “lack of transparency” in the transfer market.

This is ludicrous. Such deals have been known about and argued about for the past 12 years. The remedy is to regulate TPO — and make the terms of all transfer deals and ownership arrangements publicly available. Including all payments to agents.

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