London – The allegations about how the Monaco-based agent Mino Raiola has earned £41m from all three parties involved in Paul Pogba’s move from Juventus to Manchester United broke over Fifa just as its ousted ethics committee chairmen were accusing it before the annual congress here of cutting their work off at the knees.
It was, in a way, handy for Fifa to be able to confirm that an inquiry is ongoing into the Pogba transfer, supporting the idea that it is indeed regulating outlandish sums such as these said to have been banked by one individual – based in the tax haven of Monaco – for facilitating a single young player’s move from one top club to another.
But it was not made clear what the focus is of any such inquiry or how serious it is. Fifa spokespeople took care to say that its data-collecting Transfer Matching System asked for more details, but it does not amount to an investigation and remains far from a disciplinary matter.
In the 35C heat of another gulf state disproportionately involved in modern football due to its oil and gas fortunes, and as Diego Maradona and other greats were preparing to perform as “legends” for president Gianni Infantino’s attempts to rebrand Fifa, the bewilderment of Accrington Stanley’s chairman at Raiola’s £41m seemed a little remote.
Andy Holt had gasped at the “scandal”, the “madness” of so vast a sum being paid to one agent when smaller clubs and grassroots football struggle for subsistence – a snapshot of dramatic inequality worldwide, not just in Pennine Lancashire. The slapdown to Holt delivered by the Premier League reminding him and his EFL colleagues of the sizable money, but very small percentages, which trickle down to them, did not really address the Raiola question.
The reports of the Pogba transfer, based on contract documents published by the Football Leaks operation, agree that Raiola appears to have been paid a massive amount by Manchester United, who bought the player, Juventus, who sold him, and by Pogba.
The Danish newspaper Politiken, which says it has seen the documents, reported that the payment from Juventus, €27m, was not a sell-on commission on the club’s profit, but the fruits of Raiola acting for them as a contracted intermediary, to bid up the price.
United, determined last summer to land A-list players after the gloomy disappointments of the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal periods of management, also contracted Raiola to represent them. That is clear from the Football Association document that records the agents who acted on deals, showing that Raiola did act for Pogba and United when the player signed last August for €100m.
Politiken reports that the United contract hired Raiola to secure the signing of Pogba “on terms acceptable to the club”. Although United really wanted Pogba, acceptable terms for a buying party would, in a normal world, mean the lowest price possible in the escalating circumstances. If Raiola was also hired by Juventus to act in the transfer that would not normally be disclosed and published to the English FA, as indeed it was not, because its records do not have to include the agents who acted for overseas clubs.
If this version of the deal is true, Raiola appears to have been paid by one club for achieving the highest price possible and by the other club, United, whose interest was in limiting the amount of money it paid. Even if the fee from Juventus was a sell-on clause, that would still invest Raiola with an interest in securing the highest fee possible from the buying club. United paid Raiola €19.4m, as well as the €100m to Juventus, according to the reports.
His lowest payment was the reported €2.6m fee United also paid on behalf of Pogba for negotiating his reported £8.6m annual salary – the business of representing the player that naive football folk always thought was an agent’s actual role.
The TMS system is portrayed as a tool to increase the trustworthiness of football’s tidal money flows, because all details have to be reported to it, but it is not investigating the “madness” of this transfer as it looks to Holt. Leaving aside the difficulty of comprehending £41m being earned by one agent for dealings such as these, another head-shaking feature of modern football is that apparent conflicts of interest are allowed, if all parties agree to waive them.
The FA’s list of player signings by all English professional clubs overwhelmingly shows agents are acting for both the signing clubs and the players. That in itself is an inherent conflict of interest: a club in principle would be looking to pay a player a limited, “acceptable” salary, while a player is entitled to seek as much money as possible.
The reality is agents are as they are now described, intermediaries, to whom players are signed up but who are also rewarded by clubs for putting the whole deal together. The player and club can then acknowledge that an agent acted for both of them, and give the conflict of interest a free pass.
If Raiola did act for all three parties, including earning multi-millions from each of the buying and selling club, he may only have taken on to a new level what is permitted. Usually pictured with the tool of his trade, a mobile phone, clasped to his ear, Raiola engineered himself as the key to making the deal of the year happen, involving one of Europe’s most coveted young midfield players, and he appears to have pulled off a triple representation – being paid by all three sides.
TMS did contact United, in September, and United replied with confirmation that they did not pay Raiola a portion of the transfer fee, nor had they heard of the company, Topscore, which Raiola appears to have used to represent Juventus. Fifa said that the inquiries from TMS remain ongoing, but there is no sign or suggestion yet from Fifa that it is investigating any wrongdoing by any party. Juventus declined to comment.
As Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert, the two ethics committee chairmen whose terms are not to be renewed, raged in Bahrain that Infantino’s Fifa is neutralising the fight against corruption, the news of Raiola’s earnings washed over the gathering, just a timely tale of how modern football works.
The Guardian Sport