Player transfers rise and rise
FIFA, soccer’s international body, announced that there had been 10,454 international transfers of players during the first nine months of 2013 for the value of US$3,360 million. Details for the rest of the year were not yet available, but while the quantity of transfers is slightly inferior to 2012’s 10,513 transfers, the amount of cash paid is 29 per cent higher. FIFA also says that during those first nine months of last year, 5018 clubs from 164 countries made international transfers. However, above details are based on FIFA’s transfer matching system for which each club involved in the transfer is obliged detail where the money goes, but South American clubs tend to override this system so that their transfers are not included in the above figures.
But FIFA is more worried about the increased cuts going to agents who took an average of 28 percent commissions from transfers — a total of US$163 million dollars last year when it is calculated that English clubs alone paid 59 million dollars on international deals. FIFA wants to limit the amounts agents earn from transfers and force clubs to reveal the amounts they pay them. It also wants to stop its system of licensing agents which it inaugurated many years ago — a big mistake as this column pointed out at the time, although it also mentioned that the clubs are at fault. In the old (and wiser) days, transfers were arranged between clubs and a lot of money was saved. It is calculated however that 25-30 percent of transfers are handled by unregistered agents.
According to FIFA, most transfers took place from Portugal to Brazil (132) followed by Argentina to Chile (98), but the highest values were from Spain to England (227 million dollars for 38 players) and Italy to England (148 million dollars for 25 players) which clearly shows that English clubs paid easily the most money.
Now the world players’ union (FIFPro) has demanded a change in the transfer system and is ready to take legal measures to get its way. The current system fails most players, harms clubs and the world’s most popular game, said FIFPro president Philippe Piatt. He is perfectly right, but action should have been taken years ago. FIFPro is right when it says the present system favours a small percentage of rich clubs which will ruin the game.
FIFPro's list of complaints includes that thousands of players around the world are not paid on time or not at all, the amount of money paid to agents which is lost to soccer and the ownership of players by third parties. In this FIFPro is perfectly right, but among the changes sought after is even more freedom for the movement of players and this would only make things worse.
Meanwhile, Michel Platini, president of the European Football Union (UEFA) wants a reform of the transfer windows, calling the present system “robbery.” He wants FIFA to do something about it and agrees with FIFPro, but also supports more freedom of movement for players. But he wants transfer windows (during which transfers can be made) to be shortened.
The recent record US$132 million transfer of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid opened eyes, but what really started the ball rolling was the move of Brazilian Neymar from Santos to Europe with the Brazilian club only getting a small part of the fee. Real figures were not revealed, but percentages were paid all over the place.
Up to the end of the Initial Championship in December, Argentine clubs had sold 18 players abroad for a total of US$54 million in 2013 — three more players than the year before, but still a long way from the 33 sold in 2010. As for the money mentioned, it was 14 percent more than the year before, but no information was available of the actual amount received by the selling clubs which, whatever the amount, did not decrease their debts.
Almost half the amount mentioned was obtained for three players — Duván Zapata from Estudiantes de La Plata to Italy’s Napoli for US$9.83 million, Facundo Ferreira from Vélez Sársfield to Ucraine's Shakhtar Donetsk for US$9.24 million and Ignacio Scocco from Newell’s Old Boys to Internacional Porto Alegre for US$6.5 million.
Yet, Argentine clubs sell cheaply because they need urgent cash often to balance their accounts for the year, although their total debts increase. Unfortunately, it is players’ agents who urge the players to move just to get commissions. Yet in many cases, they arrange transfers of players who are not likely to make the grade abroad where they get few first-team chances.
It is well known that a lot of laundered money and tax evasion takes place in transfers, particularly in South America where “triangular transfers” are used to lower the taxes involved. This means player movements from one club to a third before moving to the club which originally bought him. This is happens less now, perhaps even not at all, as it has been forbidden by the authorities and tranfers are closely investigated. One man who arranged such transfers is former journalist Ramón Delgado who worked at the Herald for a short time when it had a Spanish language evening paper, the Heraldo. He owned Chilean club Unión San Felipe, one of the clubs through which this types of tranfers were arranged.