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All Things Footie | Sunday, September 3 | Jordan

Tevez and Mascherano madness

Brace yourself boys and girls, it’s a big one.

The big story at the closing of transfer window was of course Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano’s move to West Ham United. It was—it’s fair to say—out of the blue; a massive surprise to West Ham fans, players and probably the manager too, and as much as anything else, a huge puzzle.

It’s no surprise that Tevez and Mascherano are playing in England this season: Manchester United have been chasing Mascherano for months, and could also do with an experienced centre forward to replace Ruud van Nistelrooij; Arsenal have been in want of an experienced midfielder for over a season, and are also having trouble scoring goals this season; Chelsea have been most strongly linked with both players, particularly Tevez (a search for ‘Tevez Chelsea’ returns 555 results from Google’s news aggregator) and some stories have gone as far as to suggest Abramovich’s team have a signed pre-contract agreement with the player. Both players starred for one of the most impressive side’s in the World Cup this summer, and are both under 25 but with bags of experience and their best years ahead of them. They should be moving to Europe to challenge for titles and compete in the Champions League. Carlos Tevez’s release clause in his Corinthians contract was £68m, his move alone would have made his agent, and ‘Sport Club Corinthians Paulista’ an absolute fortune.

At least it would have done, if ‘Sport Club Corinthians Paulista’ were an ordinary football club.

At the start of 2005 Media Sports Investment (MSI)—a shadowy group of international investors (seemingly) headed by Kia Joorabchian, and that may or may not be a part of Roman Abramovich’s company portfolio—took over control of Corinthians, and began a lavish spell of Abramovich-esque spending, including the capture of one Carlos Tevez for $20m, a record fee at the time, and Javier Mascherano. The most interesting part of the whole deal is that although Mascherano and Tevez were playing for Corinthians, they were never ‘owned’ by them in the traditional sense, but merely leased out by MSI to Corinthians. This kind of deal is key to MSI’s business strategy, they already own several young players and a host of stadia in South America, leased to clubs—not in a mortgage sense, each club in question will never own the stadium again—as a way of MSI having a perpetual revenue. And this, in turn, is the deal that both players have with West Ham; West Ham don’t own either player, its plain to anyone that they couldn’t possibly afford to, they are simply leased out from MSI.

There are far more questions than answers in this whole business, so I’ll look at a few and give my opinion:

Q: Why did the players have to move anyway?

A: Assuming that MSI’s aim is to make as much money from the players as possible, I reason the following:

It’s likely that Tevez’s strike as well as his antics wearing a United shirt to a press conference were all orchestrations of MSI to try and make the moves seem player-led. At least if they weren’t entirely orchestrations, it’s logical to reason that they must have been endorsed by MSI.

Of course, the wonderful thing is that it could all backfire, and if Tevez and Mascherano have poor seasons in the Premiership for whatever reason, they’ll probably sell for less than they could have gone for this season. Wouldn’t that be just delicious?

Q: Why West Ham?

A: They’re based in the captial, they’re willing to put up with the ‘lease’ arrangement with MSI (which presumably Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham weren’t) and they’ll offer regular football for the players.

The associated question is of course: are West Ham benefiting? In the short term, the answer is unequivocable—they’re getting two players they couldn’t dream of signing normally, for (presumably) a nominal fee and their wages. In the longer term, it’s arguable whether there’s any tangible benefit. The addition of two players who will need time to acclimatise and who, while in posession of true quality, will suffer from not being around players of their own stature. Come this time next year, it’s possible, if not likely, that they’ll have no Tevez, no Mascherano, a big dent in the 2006/7 wage-bill and a couple of disgruntled, longer serving players who didn’t see much action over the season because of two Argentinian travellers.

Q: Is it legal?

A: I don’t see why not. All they’re effectively doing is being bigger and better organised agents. In the way that some clubs refuse to deal with certain agents, it’s quite possible that many clubs will refuse to deal with MSI or similar agencies, but there will always be clubs (off the top of my head, in addition to West Ham: Bolton, Middlesbrough and Newcastle spring to mind as likely English candidates) who will appreciate a short term boost.

There’s also of course the question of whether all players will be happy with the arrangement. It’s unclear how much choice Tevez and Mascherano had about the choice of West Ham—I’ve no doubt at all that both would rather be at a bigger club despite their protestations—as well as how much of their wages they take home, and who has control over their image rights, etc. Young South Americans are one thing, but can you see Thierry Henry, David Beckham or Steven Gerrard agreeing to be owned by a company rather than a club?

That said, they (MSI) must be doing something right, or Tevez and Mascherano wouldn’t be in their employ at the moment, though I’ve heard the pair of them aren’t exactly brain surgeons, and it’s easy to see how vulnerable, talented young players in developing countries could be talked around by a big organisation for this kind of deal. And there lies the limitations of MSI’s approach.

For all it’s innovation, and it is innovative, I can’t see this style of player ownership working on a large scale in the longer term, because, simply, it will only work with exceptional talents from poor countries—of which there are plenty of course, but not enough to sustain a large industry.

And is it all bad? If this kind of player pimping puts money into African and South American football, then that’s a good thing, so long as it’s not just one consortium controlling all of the players, it’s not really much different to the way it works at the moment (see the case of John Obi Mikel). There’s no elitism here, I’m all for the smaller clubs getting hold of some real talent, and causing more problems for the big-boys; however I see these scehemes as belittling the smaller clubs, destabalising them in the long term (how can you plan for the future when half you playing staff changes wholesale every year—guaranteed). I don’t want to see every club outside the big four becoming a feeder club.

And finally:

Q: Is Abramovich involved?

A: The $64,000 question, with serious implications. If he is involved, then it’s altogether more sinister than it already appears: his power in football will have extended to him not only signing players for Chelsea to stop them going elsewhere (Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Essien, Andri Shevchenko, and so on), but signing them for other clubs to stop them going elsewhere.

Why would we think Abramovich is involved? The number one reason is Spanish newspaper ‘AS’ claiming that he owns 15% of MSI—a damning claim indeed—but one totally unsubstantiated. That said, one would expect Abramovich to take action against a publically printed and widely cited lie, and no such action has been taken (bar a few unconvincing denials that he has any money invested in the company). The there is Pini Zahavi: the agent responsible on Chelsea’s side for the Ashley Cole tapping up, and in turn, the similar tapping up by Kenyon and Chelsea of Sven Goran Eriksson. He was also Roman Abramovich’s advisor when he negotiated the purchase of Chelsea FC.

I’ll give you one guess who MSI’s agent of choice is, and who negotiated Tevez and Mascherano’s transfer to West Ham.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that Zahavi has been involved with plenty of Premiership clubs, including, notably, Manchester United, where he earnt a reputed £750k from Louis Saha’s transfer, as well as hefty fees from Rio Ferdinand’s move from Leeds and his new contract negotiated last year. He’s been in the business for much longer than Abramovich has, but it’s undeniable that he has very strong links with Chelsea and their Russian owner.

It’s all conjecture of course, and I think there’s more chance of West Ham sigining Ronaldinho and Kaka next August than us ever getting a look at MSI’s list of investors, and indeed, there are as many connections between Abramovich’s arch-nemesis Boris Berezovsky and MSI as there is to Roman himself. It could even be that Berezovsky has forced the players to West Ham to keep them from Chelsea (though it would have made more sense to push them to a rival). In my opinion, given the natre of the company and the way it operates, it is likely one of the Oligarch’s has a vested interest in MSI, for reasons that remain unknown.

One may think that because Abramovich has such a clear vested interest in Chelsea, he couldn’t possibly think he’d get away with part owning another, but he’s got away with worse, and he’s already the controlling stakeholder of the company who bankrolls a rival to Chelsea in this season’s Champions League (CSKA Moscow, sponsored by Sibneft).

There is no reliable evidence that Abramovich has a stake in MSI, and thus a hand in Tevez and Mascherano (indeed, it appears that the only reason Tevez has been linked to Chelsea in the past is because Abramovich is reputed to be an MSI shareholder), however it’ll be interesting to see if a) one or both of the players aquire ‘knocks’ that keep them out of West Ham’s game with Chelsea, and b) if one or both of the players end up at Chelsea next season.

(52) Comment(s) | Permanent link to this article

# Posted by Anonymous Ben at 9:10 AM
What you've said was backed up in the Independant and other papers today, whcih stated that the players were offered to many bigger clubs, but the terms of the deal were rather off-putting for any of the Premier Leagues eleite - most notably the supposed clause in the contract between MSI and the Hammers stating that the players *have to be picked* if they are fit - terms that no top four team would be able to accepts with their depth of squad and grand egos to manage.

On the merit of the Brazil v Argentina game, maybe West Ham may be regretting their decision too.
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