UEFA, agents clash over third-party ownership

MICHAEL CASEY AP Sports Writer Published:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- UEFA President Michel Platini wants to end the third-party ownership of players' transfer rights but that is being fiercely opposed by agents who contend it would be a disaster for smaller clubs who depend on outside financing to secure big names.

The issue came up repeatedly at a two-day football conference in Dubai with several agents complaining the issue was being mischaracterized in the press and that imposing a ban -- which is already in place in France and England -- would only serve to further widen the gap between big and small clubs.

"If we do this, we put an end to football for small clubs," said Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes, whose clients include Colombia striker Radamel Falcao and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I don't think competitions will be the same if third parties can't take part," he said. "Clubs have the right to use legal instruments to follow their objectives. In my country, I know very well the stories, the histories of these clubs who don't have economic power to compete. If there is no mechanism to help clubs buy these players legally, then these clubs won't be able to compete."

Others like European Football Agents Association Chairman Rob Jansen told The Associated Press he opposed third parties owning the rights to a player but felt Platini was going too far with his calls to scrap the system altogether.

"They are trying to break something down which they haven't looked at carefully," Jansen said. "If you have third party ownership as long as it's in control of the club, then the club has to decide what will happen. There is nothing wrong with that. ... When you take everything out, you destroy Portugal, Spain, Holland, Belgium. You destroy entire competitions."

In November, a FIFA panel of football experts called for a global ban on the practice of third-party ownership. FIFA said its football committee, chaired by Platini, requested "a mandatory regulation to prohibit third-party ownership in football in general" and would submit a proposal to the panel's next meeting early in 2013.

Third-party ownership allows agents to buy a stake in a player from his club and cash in when future transfer fees are paid. The practice has been exploited by agents and clubs in countries such as Portugal to bring players from South America and was behind the controversial move of Carlos Tevez to West Ham from the Brazilian club Corinthians in 2006. The Tevez deal led to rule changes on third-party ownership in England and a string of bitter legal cases that saw the London club fined nearly $11 million.

In remarks at the football conference Friday, Platini reiterated his opposition to the practice and said it opened the door for criminal activity such as money laundering in the sport.

"Some have dismissed this system as modern slavery which denies players the freedom to make critical decision about their future and careers," Platini told the conference. "I would not go to that length. But I sincerely believe that such a system poses unnecessary risks to football by creating improper links between agents, financial speculators and clubs that could ultimately effect the fairness of competition while promoting abuses such of money laundering which can only harm the integrity of football. England and France have banned this system and I'm in favor that Europe does like wise."

Atletico Madrid, in many ways, demonstrates the benefits of the third party ownership, as it used the system to bring Falcao to the club. The striker the club win the Europa title last season and his 17 goals this season have helped it keep pace with Barcelona at the top of the Spanish standings.

The club's chairman Miguel Angel Gil Marin appears conflicted over efforts to ban the practice. He agreed with Platini that outside investors shouldn't be allowed to own a player -- Falcao's contract is owned 100 percent by Atletico -- but he insisted the club has benefited from tapping the money of outside investors.

"Atletico wants to compete against the 16 clubs in Europe but doesn't have the same budget," he said. "I don't have the same budget but I win. The only way to reach it is to look for some help but we don't share the economic rights with anyone. Having an agreement with third parties, funds or banks, it's normal like other companies in any sector ... It's fair, normal and it's legal."