Transfer Shenanigans What FIFA Means When It Says 'Transparency'
"Dear colleagues, did you know that FIFA TMS was created to bring transparency to the international football transfer market? Are you curious about what happens behind the scenes of Paul Pogba transferring from Juventus Turin to Manchester United? We would like to share our knowledge with you."
These lines are the draft invitation that a FIFA employee sent to Kimberly Morris in March 2017. Morris works for the Transfer Matching System (TMS), a division within FIFA where she is in charge of integrity and compliance. In a lunchtime presentation, Morris and her team were to introduce themselves to other FIFA employees and explain what it is they actually do.
The hook for her presentation was to be the transfer of the French star Paul Pogba. In summer 2016, he was sold back to Manchester United, where he had played several years earlier, for 105 million euros, making him the most expensive player in the world. Today, the sum isn't even half of the 222 million euros that Paris Saint-Germain paid for Neymar. But two years ago, such a transfer fee was still inconceivable.
TMS was launched to increase transparency. But for whom? Who aside from FIFA employees during their lunch breaks are allowed a peek behind the scenes?
Past Football Leaks revelations reported by DER SPIEGEL and the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network of journalists showed that the agent Mino Raiola advised, and billed, all three parties involved in the Pogba transfer: Juventus Turin, Manchester United and Paul Pogba. It was revealed that the deal apparently resulted in a 49-million-euro payday for Raiola, but also that FIFA launched a conflict-of-interest investigation and recommended that Juventus Turin be penalized. But FIFA's Disciplinary Committee dismissed the case.
In October 2017, FIFA issued a public statement saying the evidence that had been presented was insufficient to determine a rules violation. But is that really true?
More recent documents in the Football Leaks trove now paint a different picture. It is a look behind the scenes, for everyone, although lunch is not included. The data documents the work of the investigators and their frustration with the Disciplinary Committee's decision. It also shows that the agent Mino Raiola was not short of savvy when it came to earning money.
In the years from 2012 to 2016, Pogba became a reliable starter for Juventus Turin. Before transferring to Juventus, he had been unable to become a fixture in the Manchester United starting lineup. The fact that Pogba became the most expensive player in the world in summer 2016 came as a surprise.
A 'Bidding War'
An explanation can be found in the representation contract between Juventus Turin and Topscore Sports Limited, Raiola's company, signed on July 20, 2016. The document notes that in 2015, it hadn't been possible to sell Pogba at the price that Juventus was expecting. But that the market for the player had changed in 2016, a shift that allegedly came thanks to the activities of Raiola, who had tirelessly presented Pogba in the media as a "high-priced asset," created a "hype" about a possible future transfer and thus sought to trigger a "bidding war."
Raiola expected an acceptable payment for kicking off that war. The minimum amount for Pogba, according to the contract, was 90 million euros. And Raiola was to receive a fixed amount of 18 million euros for his services. For every 5 million euros above the minimum, though, Raiola was to earn an additional 3 million euros. Ultimately, he would earn 27 million euros from Juventus.
But Raiola didn't just act as an agent for Juventus.
On Aug. 8, 2016, one day prior to his transfer back to Manchester, Raiola, Pogba and Manchester United likewise signed a contract in which Raiola was tasked with negotiating with Juventus to pave the way for a Pogba transfer at acceptable conditions.
In other words, Raiola was to generate the highest transfer fee possible for Juventus while also protecting the interests of Manchester United and Pogba. Were they unable to recognize the obvious conflict of interest?
A Case of TPO?
The contract between the player, the agent and Manchester United indicates that the payment agreed to may have been higher than previously believed. Were the contract extended, Raiola would receive a bonus -- of up to 4.5 million euros extra.
Those responsible for transparency at FIFA began investigating in late August 2016. The focus was on a possible violation of the ban, introduced in 2015, on so-called Third Party Ownership (TPO), in which a third party profits from transfer fees.
To get an overview of what had happened, Kimberly Morris contacted the teams involved and requested that they submit reports, information and copies of the relevant contracts. Several messages went back and forth and the Football Association in England was also contacted. After five months, in February 2017, the report was finalized and submitted to the Disciplinary Committee.
The Case Transfer Report was divided into three parts: established facts, the legal background and recommended sanctions.
The investigators only alleged wrongdoing by Juventus Turin, believing that the club had violated an article of the FIFA regulations pertaining to transfers. Specifically, they suspected a banned TPO agreement. The article holds that neither clubs nor players may allow third parties to own a share of a future player transfer.
Juventus, the investigators wrote, violated the provision by allowing Raiola a share in the compensation for a future transfer of Pogba.
What Manchester United Didn't Know
They recommended a rather modest penalty of 65,000 Swiss franks, a sum that Juventus would have had no trouble paying. The report was sent to the Disciplinary Committee responsible for the case in early February 2017.
Initially, though, there was no response from the committee whatsoever.
FIFA held no responsibility for Raiola and his multifaceted professional interests. Until the beginning of 2015, FIFA dealt with matters concerning agents, but then it transferred that authority to the national associations. In England, agents are permitted to represent all three sides in a transfer, as long as all parties are aware of the arrangement. But the Football Leaks documents seem to indicate that Manchester United was unaware that Raiola was also working on behalf of Juventus Turin.
When the Football Leaks book by DER SPIEGEL reporters Rafael Buschmann and Michael Wulzinger appeared in May 2017, a chapter of which focuses on the hugely expensive transfer of Pogba and the role of his agent, FIFA jumped into action. "Can you please let me know as soon as possible whether we have transferred the Pogba case to disciplinary?" Morris wrote in a message to a coworker.
The public was merely told that FIFA was looking into the transfer. A bit later, it was announced that FIFA had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Juventus. And then, silence.
On Oct. 3, 2017, more than half a year after the report had been sent along to the Disciplinary Committee, Morris was informed of the committee's decision. The message sent to Morris by a FIFA employee noted that the case had been presented to the committee on Sept. 28, 2017, and that after it had analyzed all the information at its disposal, the decision was made not to pursue the allegations due to unclear legal footing. According to the message sent to Morris, the committee had been unanimous in its view that such transfers were "certainly reproachable" and "should not be tolerated." As such, it recommended that current rules be reviewed in order to be able to apply penalties in future cases.
The message noted that a press release would be prepared - one that was finally completed three weeks later. And it sounded radically different than the explanation elucidated in the message sent to Morris. There was no mention of the "lack of a clear legal basis" or of a "reproachable" transaction that "should not be tolerated." Instead, the statement merely noted that the evidence available had been insufficient to establish a rules violation. Nor was it mentioned that the rules were to be evaluated so as to punish such transactions in the future.
Juventus Turin chose not to comment on the content of its contract with Raiola or on FIFA investigations. Manchester United and the English Football Association likewise had nothing to say. Raiola's Manchester law firm issued a statement saying that the agent is "fiercely protective of his reputation" and reserves the right to take legal steps should defamatory allegations pertaining to his role in the Pogba transfer be made public. FIFA did not respond to a request for comment.
TMS, it was claimed, had been launched to improve transparency on the transfer market. In the end, however, the only thing presented to football fans was a watered-down press release. And that is the maximum that FIFA is apparently prepared to do. Usually, you end up hearing nothing at all.
Is that transparency?
In the aftermath, a coworker wrote to Morris that he was disappointed that the committee had not judged the incident to be a case of TPO. Still, he wrote, the fact that the Disciplinary Committee had found the transfer to be reproachable and felt that the rules should be reviewed was encouraging.