Transfer calls

Questions are being raised about the influence one agent has over La Liga’s biggest deals, reports Dermot Corrigan

Given the financial difficulties Spanish football faces, the summer transfer market was mostly quiet, with the majority of deals either free transfers or loans. However, this general trend was bucked by Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes and former Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, whose dealings drew attention from the Spanish media and even FIFA, raising questions about just who makes the important decisions at some of La Liga’s biggest clubs.

Mendes was very busy in the summer. The two biggest transfers in Spain featured his clients – Radamel Falcao’s €40 million (£35m) move from Porto to Atlético Madrid and Fábio Coentrão’s €30m switch from Benfica to Real Madrid. Both deals showed how players represented by Mendes’s agency Gestifute have a tendency to cluster at certain clubs. His clients Sílvio, Miranda and Pizzi also joined Atlético, where Tiago and Diego Costa were already on the books.

Coentrão now teams up with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe, Ángel di María and José Mourinho at Madrid. Real Zaragoza and Granada also found themselves with a sizeable contingent of Gestifute players when the transfer window closed.

Many of the individual deals were unusual. Granada took full-back Jorge Ribeiro from Benfica just weeks after he had arrived there from Vitória Guimarães. Júlio Alves signed for Atlético, but was loaned to Turkish side Besiktas (whose numerous Gestifute clients include Manchester United’s £7.4m flop Bébé) without ever being seen in Madrid. Most baffling of all was the €8.6m signing of ex-Atlético and Benfica goalkeeper Roberto by Real Zaragoza, who are €134m in debt. After the Portuguese stock exchange expressed an interest in that deal, it was revealed that the fee had been paid by an investment group linked to Mendes and Kenyon.

This involvement of third-party investors ratcheted up the intrigue. In September the news agency Bloomberg reported that FIFA was investigating transfers involving Gestifute clients to see if third parties were illegally influencing transfer values or policies at clubs including Atlético Madrid, Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas.

The reports also said FIFA was examining Quality Football Ireland (QFI), a business venture between Gestifute and Kenyon’s employer, the Hollywood-based Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Mendes was reportedly an “adviser” to this fund, which had “investments” in about 15 players, some of whom are Gestifute clients. Kenyon’s role with QFI was to bring in wealthy investors. Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Braga and Atlético (again) were all mentioned in their brochure.

The suggested wrongdoing was immediately denied. A Gestifute spokesperson accepted that Mendes was a consultant for QFI, but denied he had any decision-making power. Kenyon assured Bloomberg that any potential conflict of interest was being “managed” to ensure no rules were broken. However, there was no clear explanation of how these Chinese walls were supposed to function.

There has also been no official confirmation to date from FIFA of their investigations, and the Spanish league authorities are not usually likely to poke into anything embarrassing. But the constant drip-drip of information (and excellent investigative work by El País in particular) seems to have rattled at least some of those involved. Two weeks after Kenyon’s statement to Bloomberg, the Guardian reported that he had parted company with CAA “following a disagreement over its strategic direction”.

This might have been more of a tactical withdrawal though, as El País then ran a series of reports looking at Doyen Sports Investments (DSI), a new investment fund with links to Kenyon and Gestifute. DSI invests in the futures of young Spanish footballers and also helpfully supports clubs in financial difficulty. It has already concluded kit sponsorship deals with Sporting Gijon, Getafe and, unsurprisingly, Atlético.

With so many different strands getting tangled – including clubs, players, presidents, agents, investors, authorities and  journalists – fans could switch off and just concentrate on what is going on out on the pitch. Dodgy transfers, unscrupulous agents and presidents on the make are nothing new in Spanish football, and the authorities have rarely troubled themselves overmuch about the competitive balance of their league.

What’s new here, though, is the potential for external parties, whose interests are not directly aligned with whether a club wins or loses, to wield an unhealthy influence over which players are sold, to whom and for how much. Supporters of the Madrid clubs, for example, will await any FIFA findings with great interest.

From WSC 298 December 2011