2 September 2018
“With my current data alone, I could prove worldwide tax fraud to the tune of three-digit millions to the authorities. But I hope they will give me a bit more time before they arrest me.”
So says the mysterious John, the figurehead of Football Leaks which has leaked more than 18.6 million confidential documents to date. It’s no exaggeration to put Football Leaks up there with Snowden, Assange and Manning in terms of the bravery in the face of real danger and the sheer weight of the hugely important revelations that bring shame on a great number of shameless people.
Buschmann and Wulzinger have written a really engrossing account of their part in meeting with the mysterious protagonist, showing us how they helped to raise awareness and promote his findings, giving them an even wider audience in the hope of making some real, serious changes in the game, which everyone within the higher echelons of, seems intent on not doing.
This book is bursting with facts and stats and intimate contract details that clearly show how out of touch and removed from reality footballers and football has become. The hyper-gentrification of the game is getting worse all the time, which means little by little the kind of people who invented it and made it great are slowly being excluded and pushed out of it in order to accommodate a new moneyed class with vast financial ambitions and little to no interest in the game itself.
Depending on your age, background or level of tolerance, most football fans will have their point when they thought that the game/transfer market had gotten out of control, whether it’s the £1 million paid for Trevor Francis by Clough’s Nottingham Forest way back in 1979, or maybe the £15 million shelled out for Alan Shearer, by Newcastle in 1996?...But surely the obscene 222 million euro that PSG paid for Neymar in 2017 would be the breaking point for most rational minds?...Either way it raises clear questions as to the point of deluding people with the empty charade of FFP.
Money and greed have unquestionably tainted and distorted the game, almost beyond recognition. When you’ve got Sunderland being rewarded nearly £100 million for finishing bottom of their league, earning more than Bayern Munich who won the Bundesliga for the fifth consecutive year, then not only should serious questions be getting asked, but meaningful action taken.
Many of the uglier aspects of the modern game are addressed in here, the murky world of TPO (Third Party Ownership) with specific reference to Doyen Sports, apparently owned by Kazakh oligarchs. We hear about their part in various players and transfers and in particular with the Dutch outfit FC Twente. FIFA would later ban TPO in 2015, but of course this doesn’t mean that will put an end to it.
Spain is of much interest in here, for obvious reasons, with them having the current best club team on the planet. We learn about the so called Impatriado status, given to those who hadn’t lived in the country in the previous ten years, they were allowed to pay at tax rate of just under 25% on all their Spanish income, whereas their Spanish team mates had to pay more than 50%. This loophole was later closed by a new, socialist government.
There is understandable attention on the Gareth Bale transfer from Spurs to Real Madrid in 2013, as we now know the apparent fee was actually 100,759,418 euros (making him the first player to break the 100 million euro barrier) and not the reported 91,589,842. Why did Real lie?...Was it to protect Ronaldo’s ego or was it something else?...Tax reasons perhaps?...We hear of how the Spanish banks had issued guarantees for the deal and yet these were the very same banks that had been given 40 billion euros of public funds to save them from going under in 2012.
We hear of a detail in the draft clause of a contract between Adidas and Real Madrid in 2011, apparently Madrid had it written in that Adidas had to pay them 40 million euros in cash. It is not known if this clause made it into the final contract or indeed why Madrid required 40 million euros in cash?...
This book is filled with many shameless details and clauses that footballers have written into their contracts, like when Chicharito went to Leverkusen, he had it put in his contract that after every fifth goal in competitive matches, he received a special payment of 100’000 euros. He scored 26 goals that season. Then there is the bizarre case of Mario Balotelli who had a ‘good conduct bonus’ put in his contract at Liverpool, stating that if he was sent off fewer than three times a season for bad behaviour then he was entitled to an extra £1 million. He never got a single red card in his first season.
We also learn about egomaniac, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s contract when he went to Man Utd. He had it written into his contract that he would be paid 280’000 euros for the first five goals or assists for his team, a further 470’000 euros for six through to 10 and an additional 660’000 euros for goals and assists from 10 to 15, which surely begs the question, What were his wages for in the first place?...
Then there is the case of Ezequiel Lavezzi, who is described as, “a doddering striker plying his trade for a team from China.” At the start of 2016, months away from turning 31, his salary for Hebei China Fortune in the Chinese Super League for just under two years was $56.7 million. Net. So in the end he had the best paid contract in the world in 2016, more than Ronaldo, Messi etc, Earning $1,894 an hour or $32 a minute.
“Killing the messenger to get rid of the message is a classic response of systems of power when their strategies for maintaining dominance are made public and questioned by anonymous third parties”
This is easily my favourite quote from this book, and it really sums up a modern dilemma faced by whistle blowers. Instead of the powerful system that has been ridiculed and exposed for its lies and illegality questioning itself and correcting its behaviour, it’s instinct is always, and will always be to protect itself and punish those who dare have the courage to speak up against it. This was exactly the case with Manning, Snowden and Assange who all showed tremendous courage in what they did and this is what this system is trying to do to Football Leaks.
But of course this is not just about football it’s about a group of greedy, elite people who earn an absurd amount of money, who feel that the laws applying to everyone else should not apply to them, and so what ultimately happens is that the state is deprived of millions upon millions of euros/pounds worth of money that could be used to improve the system and benefit the welfare of many others. The same systems that would have supported and helped the communities these footballers would have grown up in. Too often these people forget about the wider support systems that allowed them to flourish in the first place, from hospitals and schools to various other security systems. When they chose to avoid tax on such a massive scale, ultimately what they are doing is choosing to deprive future generations of being able to enjoy the same opportunities as they did.
Football fans can be notoriously fickle, in one sense they can be harshly unforgiving of perceived slights, holding grudges against teams, managers or players for decades, and on one hand they can be bizarrely forgiving and selective sighted on other matters. If politicians, bankers or other celebrities had gone to the same cynical and selfish lengths to avoid tax, they would rightly be shamed and condemned, but the same rules don’t seem to apply to football stars, yet whether these players want to admit it or not, they obviously have a social and moral responsibility to act and behave in a certain manner. It is a tiny price to pay for the immense wealth and privilege they get to enjoy. It is apparent that too few are either mature, responsible or reasonable enough to acknowledge that and embrace the opportunities of helping others or setting positive examples, instead of just squeezing the next million out and tucking it away in a tax haven and playing the dumb footballer card, when they are caught out doing it.