THIRD-PARTY OWNERSHIP : Platini goes to war over ‘immoral’ system

Updated: March 29, 2014

There were some strong words issued by Michel Platini at the 38th UEFA Congress held in the Khazakistan capital of Astana this week, not least the determined plea aimed at his FIFA counterpart, Sepp Blatter, to finally address the issue of “third-party ownership” in football.

The UEFA President addressed Blatter directly, calling on him to outlaw the practice worldwide – something to which UEFA have already agreed to. Platini also praised England’s Football Association for being the first to ban what are widely known as “third party ownership” transfers.

The Frenchman said the current practice of companies and individuals making significant amounts of money from the sale of footballers had to be outlawed, saying: “I have been constantly warning for years that this practice – which is becoming increasingly widespread – is a danger to our sport.”

The FA become the first national association to impose an outright ban on the practice in 2007, following an investigation into the deals that took Argentine duo Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham United from Brazilian side Corinthians. The double deal was seen as a major coup for the Hammers, after all the pair were already established internationals and among the most sought-after young players in South American football.

The deals came under scrutiny when Mascherano subsequently moved to Liverpool in January 2007 however, after it emerged two offshore companies, represented by Iranian-born businessman and agent Kia Joorabchian, owned the registration of both Mascherano and Tevez.

West Ham were accused of concealing the complexities of the transfers from the Premier League, who also claimed the move gave Joorabchian undue influence over when and where the players could play. West Ham appeared at a  disciplinary tribunal in April 2007, when they pleaded guilty, and were fined £5.5 million by the Premier League. They were also ordered to cancel the “third-party” contract of Tevez.

Despite being hit with what was a record fine at the time, the decision proved contentious as Tevez was to play a crucial role in saving West Ham from relegation that season, scoring three goals in the three victories which followed the tribunal. The Hammers eventually stayed up, however they faced more legal action when Sheffield United, who had been relegated, took direct action against them.

A private legal process eventually ruled that Tevez’s “third-party” contract had not been cancelled and that the striker had played a pivotal role in keeping his club up. West Ham and Sheffield United eventually agreed a £15 million compensation payment, covering losses the Yorkshire club had incurred due to relegation.

The incident attracted huge publicity in England, with Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, comparing “third-party” deals to “indentured slavery”. Scudamore protested that investors could act anonymously to purchase stakes in players, then reap the rewards when they were sold on at a later stage.

It is a practice that is widespread in South America and one which is now also common in many parts of Europe, most notably among those financially weaker clubs in the East and Iberian peninsula, who benefit from receiving funds up front. Worryingly, a report by consultant group KPMG in August suggested that up to 36% of players in the Portuguese top flight were owned by third-party investors rather than clubs themselves.

Scudamore has waged a campaign aimed at forcing FIFA to ban third-party ownership across the globe, which their executive committee agreed to in November 2012. However, new “third-party” restrictions were only placed on clubs’ employment and transfers, with investment still permitted.

Platini has been an outspoken critic of the practice and has promised to act should FIFA fail to take appropriate action. Speaking on Thursday, Platini issued a direct plea to the FIFA President, saying: “Mr Blatter, you ask things of us, such as solidarity with other continents, and we do as you ask.

“This time, we have something to ask of you. I want to take advantage of your presence here today to make a solemn request. Please have the political courage to deal with this problem once and for all.

“There comes a time when you have to stop hiding behind committees, sub-committees, studies by expert groups and academic reports.

“The amount of money that vanishes into thin air in a single transfer exceeds the entire annual budget for your global solidarity program, GOAL. Do you realize what that means? Do you consider that normal? I, for one, do not.”

It is a notion that is also supported by the world players’ union, FIFPro, who are seeking reforms to the current transfer system. This week, FIFPro’s European president Bobby Barnes described third-party ownership as an “unsustainable, immoral and illegal investment model.”

Platini has attracted a number of high-profile critics however, among them former Brazilian international Leonardo who blasted the Frenchman, saying: “Platini talks without knowing [what he is talking about].

“From Nyon he doesn’t know what’s happening and I have never seen him in South America. If there’s a hole in the system, it’s logical that others take advantage of it. Clubs no longer have a lot of money.”

Despite Leonardo’s criticism however, Platini has vowed to continue his fight against the practice, promising to pressure FIFA until they finally take action on what he believes is one of the greatest threats to the integrity of the world game.

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