DAVID SHONFIELD: Football needs its whistle blowers

Whatever you think of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, the world needs whistleblowers and leakers.

For the past six months, football has had its own source of confidential information, still anonymous as yet, but styling itself as Football Leaks and gradually releasing a stream of documents on the internet.

Their latest disclosure yesterday gives the terms of the Luis Suarez transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona and follows other recent leaks about transfer deals, mostly obscure, but some of them very big — such as Sergio Aguero’s move to Manchester City from Atletico Madrid.

The Suarez deal, dated July 11, 2014, turns out to have been for less than was quoted at the time, a little under €82 million (€81,692,856 to be precise) — the fee being payable in five instalments.

Liverpool are still due the final payment at the end of July, which should bring in around €16.5m.

As the deal was done in pounds (just short of £65 million) rather than euro, Barcelona will end up paying slightly more than they may have anticipated because of the way exchange rates have changed over the past 18 months. Barcelona were also responsible for looking after any VAT payable at the time of the deal.

In itself, the detail of the Suarez transfer simply confirms that the fees you see quoted at the time are often not correct, and the sums involved are usually paid over several years, especially with fees running into 10s of millions. Two years is usual, occasionally the full fee is only paid three or four years later.

So nothing very controversial, but clearly Football Leaks have again shown that they possess a stock of transfer information that may prove embarrassing to clubs, and more importantly to any third parties involved.

So far there have been no casualties, apart from Aldo van der Laan, former boss of FC Twente, who was obliged to resign after details were revealed of a third party agreement involving Doyen Sports, the investment and player rights agency. The Dutch club had sold “economic rights” for several players to Doyen, among them Dusan Tadic, the Serbian midfielder now with Southampton.

Third party ownership, banned by Fifa in December 2014, is the main target of Football Leaks according to one of those involved, who spoke anonymously to the German magazine Der Spiegel last month.

“We live in Portugal. We are all Portuguese citizens,” he said.

“We are totally independent and none of us is paid for working here. We had been thinking about this project for a long time… we began collecting documents from the football business and waited for the right moment to publish them.”

Football Leaks claim to have more than 500 gigabytes of documents and to be “constantly receiving new ones”. So evidently there is more to come.

They have been accused of theft and computer hacking by Doyen and others, and also of blackmail, specifically by Doyen’s front man Nelio Lucas.

There is a Portuguese connection on both sides of this battle. Lucas was for some years a relatively small operator in the Portuguese transfer market, periodically linked to one or two agents in Britain, who has since become a big fish thanks to his position with the Doyen Group, now based in Malta.

No one exactly knows who has financed Doyen, but they have now moved well beyond simple third party investment. The concern for those interested in the integrity and transparency of football, Fifa included, is that both Doyen and other more shadowy business consortia may be gaining control of smaller clubs, or at least a significant stake, and thus continue to speculate in player trading despite the Fifa ban.

Lucas and agents such as Pini Zahavi continue to claim that third-party involvement benefits the game by helping clubs who lack financial muscle.

One thing is clear: just banning third-party ownership will not work.

The transfer market has to be made more transparent, and for this reason alone the whistle blowers should be encouraged.


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