Football Leaks: Whistleblower Exposes Top Players' Contracts
Online whistleblower Football Leaks has attracted global attention for publishing the contracts of stars like Germany's Mesut Özil. For its latest exposés, the platform has provided SPIEGEL with access to around 60 documents that contain new revelations such as the annual salary paid by Real Madrid to Toni Kroos.
The man feared by football's dubious dealmakers, a man who is by now probably even hated by the bosses at Real Madrid, is somewhere in Portugal. He doesn't allow visitors -- only emails. When asked if he can be reached by phone, a reporter is told it would be better not to. The man calls himself John.
John is one of the creators of the online whistleblowers platform Football Leaks, a secret group that has been publishing spectacular details about the contracts of top international football players, including the amount paid by Arsenal London for Mesut Özil, the transfer sum paid for Brazilian forward Hulk by Zenit Saint Petersburg and the special agreement between AS Monaco and Manchester United over French player Anthony Martial. Football Leaks has the contracts, is familiar with the sums and is posting them on the Web. The football industry is in turmoil.
The platform scored its most recent coup just over two weeks ago, when Football Leaks published the agreement Real Madrid reached two and a half years ago for the transfer of winger Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur to its team. The site also published the transfer fee: 100,759,418 ($112.5 million).
Bale, as we now know, is the world's most expensive football player. But we also know that Tottenham and Real have a non-disclosure agreement in place that forbids them from going public with these details of the true sum and that they will instead state the amount of 91.6 million. The reason for this may have been a desire not to bruise the ego of another Real superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was previously the world's most expensive footballer. He transferred from Manchester United to Real in 2009 for 94 million.
'We Want a More Transparent and Credible Sport'
Be it the absurd money flows or the bizarre vanities, Football Leaks is mercilessly posting every insane aspect of professional football -- exposing both legal and illegal doings.
SPIEGEL has established written contact with John. "We want a more transparent and credible sport," he writes. "Some clubs simply have no respect for the fans and keep too much secret. Everything has become taboo: salaries, contracts, clauses." He says the aim of Football Leaks is to clean up the transfer system and to rein in the influence of player's agents and investment funds.
It's unclear how Football Leaks is getting access to the documents. They could be coming from sources linked to player's agents, from club representatives or from employees at national football associations. What's striking is the fact that so many of the documents it has exposed relate to Real Madrid, the Sporting Clube de Portugal, the country's top football association, or the company owned by Jorge Mendes, who on the side of Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho, has risen in the past 10 years to become the world's most influential agent. During the World Cup summer of 2014 alone, Mendes' company Gestifute was involved in transfers of players worth more than 250 million.
"Our documents come from different sources -- we have a very good network," John writes. According to his account, Football Leaks has spent months gathering contracts and agreements from the football industry. Football Leaks made the decision last summer to go public with its information. He writes that the decision had been triggered by the "lies and deception" that had accompanied the transfers of Portuguese players.
"We are all Portuguese citizens," John writes. "We all live in Portugal." John does not reveal how many people are involved in the project, how old they are or their professional backgrounds. "That's too dangerous," he writes.
Some of the leaks published so far have involved indiscretions and appear to have been aimed at quenching fans' thirst for scandal. Nevertheless, the documents are still often explosive in nature. One revelation led the Dutch football association to impose a three-year ban on FC Twente Enschede -- as recently as 2010 the champions of the country's top professional league, the Eredivisie -- from European matches. Football Leaks had published documents showing that the club had sold the transfer rights for five players to a dubious sporting rights agency in Malta, a business model that international football body FIFA banned at the beginning of 2015.
Football Leaks also provided documents to SPIEGEL to vet and publish. At the end of last week, our editorial staff in Hamburg received around 60 documents. They include the transfer agreement between FC Bayern Munich and Real Madrid for player Xabi Alonsos dating August 28, 2014, as well as the transfer agreement between Real Madrid and FC Bayern for German national team player Toni Kroos. The transfer fee, as stated in the document, was 25 million, to be paid in full by July 15, 2016 in three installments.
This agreement, which is also signed by Kroos, is dated July 10, 2014 -- two days after Germany's 7:1 triumph in the World Cup semifinal against Brazil and three days before the victorious final match in Rio. Kroos finally signed an employment contract with Real on July 17. Kroos had hoped to rise within FC Bayern to become one of its best-paid players, but club bosses refused to promote him. The negotiations over Kroos' salary captivated fans and media alike for months. According to this employment contract, Madrid was offering Kroos the kind of top salary he had been denied in Munich: He would enjoy gross earnings of 11.3 million during the first season and then 10.9 million a year from his second to sixth season with the team. This contract stipulated that Kroos would be paid twice a year instead of monthly, with half to be paid on Jan. 10 and the other half on July 10.
One detail that says a lot about the glamour-factor of his employer can be found on page three of the amendments to this contract. It states that the Real midfielder is to receive a one-time gross payment of 1,818,182 if he is one of the top three candidates for FIFA's World Player of the Year. Afterward, this sum would be added to his fixed salary. Kroos would be offered the same one-time bonus and the same salary increase if he were named World Player of the Year. Toni Kroos and his adviser Volker Struth declined to comment on the terms of his contract. Football Leaks intends to reveal the contents of Kroos' contracts online after the publication of this issue of SPIEGEL.
Dubious Business Dealings
The documents the whistleblower sent to SPIEGEL in advance also contain sensitive information. They shed light on the dubious business dealings of the Dutch players' agent Martijn Odems, a well-networked man in Italy's Serie A soccer league. Odems, whose consulting firm Orel B.V. is based in Amsterdam, negotiated Argentine goalie Juan Pablo Carrizo's switch from Lazio in Rome to Inter Milan. According to the documents from Football Leaks, the agent assigned his fee to a company registered in Panama.
These agreements were strictly confidential. Even Inter Milan was not permitted to know anything about them. The club transferred Orel B.V. 300,000 after Carrizo's transfer in three payments. This was confirmed to SPIEGEL by an Inter Milan spokesman on Thursday. So far, so good. Odems was being paid his fee in the Netherlands.
But for him, the matter wasn't over yet apparently, the Football Leaks documents show. The company in Panama, with which Odems had entered into a secret deal, sent three invoices totaling 277,500 to Orel B.V. for the Carrizo transfer, payable to two of its bank accounts in Vienna and London -- a move that raises suspicions of possible tax evasion.
For Odems' company in the Netherlands, receipt of the payment from Inter was cancelled out by the money transfers to the Panama firm.
The Dutch agent didn't respond to a request for comment about why he passed along the money he had received from Inter Milan to a company based in Panama. He also didn't say whether or how much of his share of the profits was paid back to him by the offshore company -- a classic move among agents. Odems obviously wasn't counting on Football Leaks to come snooping.
"Our motivation is to put a stop to people unfairly enriching themselves from our national pastime, soccer," says John. "Our revelations spur people around the world to address these abuses." At Football Leaks, John writes, no strings are being pulled by a higher power with some vested commercial interest or malicious intent to undercut the competition. "We are totally independent and none of us is paid for working here," he writes. According to John, Football Leaks is in possession of massive troves of data that must still be evaluated. "We have more than 500 gigabytes of documents."
That's hundreds of thousands of pages.
But the pressure on Football Leaks is growing. Anyone who takes on the world's most famous soccer clubs and the consultants that help them push around millions of euros is not going to walk away unscathed. The whistleblowers' website has been brought down three times. They suspect the Doyen Sports Group is behind the hacks. It's a dubious sports rights agency which has had its financial activities laid bare by Football Leaks. The agency denies this allegation, instead accusing Football Leaks of blackmailing the company with data stolen through hacking. John counters that the accusation is "ridiculous."
The whistleblowers believe Doyen hired private detectives to spy on them in order to shut Football Leaks down. "The football lobby has very powerful people working for it. They also have significant influence over the investigative authorities," John writes.
But the whistleblowers aren't allowing themselves be intimidated. "People like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are a big inspiration for us," John writes. "They sacrificed everything for their convictions and dreams."
Football Leaks will continue to publish documents. Meanwhile, they've also switched to a server based in Russia.
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2016
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
Click on the links below for more information about DER SPIEGEL's history, how to subscribe or purchase the latest issue of the German-language edition in print or digital form or how to obtain rights to reprint SPIEGEL articles.
- Frequently Asked Questions: Everything You Need to Know about DER SPIEGEL
- Six Decades of Quality Journalism: The History of DER SPIEGEL
- A New Home in HafenCity: SPIEGEL's New Hamburg HQ
- Reprints: How To License SPIEGEL Articles