Bloomberg News

UEFA Considers Champions League Ban for Fund-Owned Players

February 01, 2012

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- European soccer’s governing body would consider a Champions League and Europa League ban for players whose transfer rights are owned by outside investors, UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino said.

The ruling body is examining the practice of teams selling some rights to investors, who want to profit from transfer fees when the players move clubs. The technique is being used in top leagues in Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy and is banned in England’s Premier League and France’s Ligue 1. Infantino said in an interview at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, that he doesn’t like the agreements.

French and English officials have complained to UEFA that clubs can use the third-party investments to skirt new fiscal regulations that seek to link clubs’ expenditure with their income. Infantino said the organization “will certainly look into” the possibility of banning third party-owned players from UEFA competitions.

“This kind of player ownership is a growing threat,” he added.

Transfers fall under the jurisdiction of soccer’s global governing body FIFA, which currently allows investors to buy stakes in athletes providing they have no control over when they can play or when they are bought and sold. Infantino said it was difficult to prove whether a company with economic interests in player controlled when he was sold.

“We will ourselves look into this matter because it cannot continue in this manner,” Infantino said.

UEFA last week released financial figures related to club soccer. It showed 2.5 billion euros ($3.3 billion) was spent on player trades in the region’s 53 national federations last season. As many as 1,000 players, or 15 percent of all squads in Europe, may be part-owned by investors, according to Raffaele Poli, a researcher at the International Center for Sports Studies in Neuchatel, Switzerland, who co-writes an annual study on the soccer transfer market.

The Premier League said it’s opposed to investors buying stakes in players because “it threatens the integrity of competitions, reduces the flow of transfer revenue contained within the game and has the potential to exert external influences on players’ transfer decisions.”

Spain’s Real Zaragoza, which is in administration, financed the signing of goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez in the offseason with as much as 8 million euros from an investment fund team officials declined to identify. Fine. Real Zaragoza Chief Executive Officer Francisco Checa said in a Nov. 17 interview that team owner Agapito Iglesias is among investors in the Fund, but wouldn’t identify other investors.

Billionaire Investor

In Germany, billionaire investor Klaus-Michael Kuehne paid 12.5 million euros in return for a stake in five players at Hamburg. A third of the transfer rights for Cologne striker Lukas Podolski are held by club sponsor Solar World, which paid a part of the striker’s 10 million euro move from Bayern Munich.

“You know this is something I don’t like because if you are not master of your decisions there’s always a question,” record 22-time German champion Bayern Munich’s chairman Uli Hoeness said in a Jan. 16 interview.

The Premier League banned outside investors from having stakes in players in 2007 after complications related to the ownership of Argentina national team players Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.

“We are encouraged that UEFA shares our concerns in this area and is considering the possibility of outlawing the practice for clubs competing in its competitions,” the league said in a statement to Bloomberg News.

UEFA has also said it will look into the effect such player ownership agreements have on its new financial regulations, which will penalize teams that breach fiscal targets from 2014. Clubs can have a maximum deficit of 45 million euros for three seasons up to 2014.

--With assistance from Alex Duff in Madrid. Editor: Christopher Elser

--Editors:

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in the London newsroom on tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.


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