Deconstructing Football’s Conspiracy Theorem

(Note to the Soccerlens Massive: I was gonna keep stoom on this but, now the dust is settled, I thought I’d put my ha’penny’s in…)

A rhetorical question: Can the existence of an organisation as decidedly iffy as Media Sports Investments (MSI) be anything but bad for the game? All together now – you know the words…

Football news stories rarely register higher than zero on the Interest Scale. A fractured metatarsal here, a groin strain there, a three-game match ban for player X following the issuing of a red card over here, indescribably banal player/manager interviews over there – it’s all pretty standard stuff. But there are, however, exceptions to the rule.

On the afternoon of Thursday 31st August 2006 – the day the EPL’s summer transfer window closed – I read something that caused my eyebrows to rise heavenwards and dropped my jaw to the floor in amazement. West Ham — it was rumoured — had signed two of the game’s finest prospects; the Argentinean’s Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano. Such was my state of shock, I actually refused to believe what I was being told…on the grounds that it was of the opinion my limb was being pulled. But, later, when The Hammers officially confirmed the report to be fact via their website, I had no choice other than accept it as truth and was suitably dumb-struck as a result.

West Ham is a club with an impressive history…but don’t we just know it? Because, as their supporters are slightly too fond of reminding the rest of us (cue cavernous yawn…); without their input of key personnel back in ’66, Eng-go-land would never have got its grubby, little mitt’s on the Jules Rimet trophy. And, it is also a truth their youth academy continues to weld a disproportionate influence on English football. At the time of writing, the current England squad boasts an impressive FIVE players — Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard — all of whom started their careers at the Boleyn. But, and with all due respect to West Ham followers everywhere, the Hammers are more a lethargic midget than sleeping giant. Despite the lofty opinion their fans tend to have of (themselves and) their club, when the complete history of football Comes to be written, West Ham will occupy a footnote not than a chapter.

So, how on Earth then, I wondered to myself that day, had they persuaded Tevez and Mascherano to sign on the dotted line? They must’ve chloroformed them. Surely.

And what next? Ronaldinho to Reading perhaps? It certainly wouldn’t have been any more outrageous. But, alas, the midnight hour came and went without any word from the Nou Camp confirming the toothy, pony-tailed, Brazilian genius’ imminent arrival in the U.K.

If you Google the words, “Conspiracy Theory” you will be presented with a long list of links of websites authored – one assumes – by the social inadequate’s and consumed by those feeble of mind. Click on a few randomly – as I did – and you will be variously informed that 9/11 was not the most audacious and spectacular terrorist attack in history, it was orchestrated by America’s far-right, Neo-Christian movement as a mechanism to bring about a new world order; AIDS is a man-made virus deliberately implemented by the Establishment to eradicate communities and social groups it considers to be ‘undesirable’ — homosexuals, drug addicts, starving Africans and so forth; Princess Diana was not the victim of a Paris road accident — she was assassinated by our own Secret Service who viewed her enduring popularity as a threat that could eventually debase the authority of the British monarchy. Hmmm…

But I digress.

In the days following the capture of the Argentinean duo, details began to emerge that their arrival at Upton Park had brought with it a distinctly fish-like aroma and — ominously – there might be more to this story that had first met the eye.

But football’s very own conspiracy theory was not the work of pasty-skinned, geeks with wild imagination’s and HUGE superiority complexes. It flames have been largely been fanned by the respectable, legitimate news media.

(Click the hyperlink’s to read the referenced stories) On September 1st, The Guardian reported that Tevez’s and Mascherano’s contracts were at least half owned by a mysterious sports investment company known as MSI. An article published in The Times the following day, sought to shed further light on the people behind the deal. MSI we were told is an extremely dubious enterprise that, having made (and broken) many promises to Brazilian club, The Corinthians, had set their sights on owning a premiership club. West Ham, it appeared, fitted the bill perfectly. MSI, we were further enlightened, is fronted by a shady Iranian businessman who — it was inferred — is, somewhat sinisterly, backed by money from benefactors unknown. Boris Berezovsky — oh God, not another one – an exiled, billionaire, Oligarch of Russian extraction is thought to be one of them. Then, on September 3rd, The Independent entered the fray revealing Tevez had let slip — via an interpreter in his first press conference since the transfer was announced — that he was only planning on hanging around at Upton Park for just ONE season. The plot was indeed thickening…to an almost gravy-like consistency.

But probably the most damning report came the next day (again in The Independent) informing us that both players had been pimped around by MSI — and rejected — by Europe’s ‘elite’ clubs, including Man Yoo, before joining West Ham. Quite possibly, it was rumoured, as a very last resort with the transfer window poised to slam shut. However, and it is crucially important that this is noted; reading in between the lines of the latter Indy article, it appears the major reason for the G14’s members apparent apathy toward signing Tevez and Mascherano was it would not be they (the club) who would receive the majority share of any transfer profit received if or when the player(s) moved on. Make of that what you will.

So, there we were. Less than a week after West Ham’s “sensational transfer coup of the decade” and it appeared the signing of Tevez and Mascherano was neither “sensational” nor — indeed – a “coup”. Instead, the Hammers had willingly entered into an highly-dubious agreement with an highly-dubious organisation that made them, in many informed observers opinions, no more than a feeder club in what was/is, essentially, a ‘shop window’ transfer deal. And, to top it all off, MSI were seeking to buy The Hammers — lock, stock and barrel — and, incredibly, the club was listening to their offer. Were, you had to ask yourself, the current directors of West Ham United mad, greedy or simply both?

And was this ‘transfer’ and possible club acquisition a nightmare glimpse of football’s future – where speculator’s trail their galáctico investment’s around from club to club, making millions every time they put pen to paper? We know that Bosman has more or less rendered footballer’s contracts meaningless; would the activities of organisations like MSI eventually make the current transfer system redundant too?

MSI have absolutely no defence to the charges levelled against them. As the work of the quality journalist’s linked above makes clear; they are a private company (or consortium of individuals) seeking to profiteer from a couple of potentially world-class footballer’s careers, and that is without precedent.

Or so I thought until I read up on my football history and uncovered a little-known but highly-relevant fact:

Fifteen years ago, two entrepreneurial Brazilian football agents – Alexandre Martins and Rienaldo Pitta – bought the rights to three promising schoolboy footballers from Rio’s second division São Cristóvão club. From what I have unearthed, reports vary as to the exact fee paid for the trio but it was certainly no more than a combined £20,000 (GBP). Two of the three were destined to enjoy modest careers but in the third — a 15 year old striker at the time — they had unknowingly struck pure gold.

After making his name at the South American Under-17 championships in 1993, Pitta and Martins touted their prodigy around Brazil’s bigger clubs but were unable to reach agreement with any of them. The major sticking point in negotiations was the agents would only let their player move to a club that would allow them to retain a 51% stake. Eventually, after many refusals, first division side, Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte, agreed to their demand.

(Is any of this starting to sound familiar?!!)

Soon, their charge took senior football by storm and, in the process, forced his way into Brazil’s World Cup squad. The player’s name? Ronaldo. A year later, aged just 17, he left Cruzeiro and joined Holland’s PSV Eindhoven in a multi-million deal — making his svengali management team extremely wealthy men in the process.

For Martins and Pitta, their initial investment has paid off many millions of times over and they were to continue to act as the player’s agents during a glittering and distinguished career that, thus far, has seen their protégé made the subject of TWO world-record transfers. Firstly, to La Liga’s Barcelona (from PSV) in 1996, and then, from Barca to Serie A’s Inter Milan in 1997. Today, the two men remain hugely influential figures within South American football.

But I’m digressing again…

…back to MSI. In light of the above, perhaps we should forget the footie doomsday scenario being suggested by people who really should know better and instead see Media Sport Investments for what it is – an investment company investing in sport. Forgive me the further rhetoric, but would all this fuss have been created if they were sinking their speculative capital into property or financial futures instead of the beautiful game?

As fans, we follow football for love not money. And while we might not like the idea of loaded-up syndicates like MSI emerging from the shadows like a pride of lions with the sole objective of making a financial killing, the fact is football generates many billions of pounds globally so their coming — whilst disagreeable — is also plainly inevitable. As the saying goes; hey – that’s capitalism for ya, kids.

And, in any case, just who are these mongers of doom trying to kid? Planet Football has never been — and will never be – a paragon of virtue. We all know for a fact it is a land where players are unsettled and tapped-up by rivals, where matches are sometimes fixed, and where great wads of cash encased in brown envelope’s are surreptitiously stuffed into jacket pocket’s of players, manager’s, and agent’s. We try not to think about it naturally, but (sh)it happens.

So, where does this leave us? Back where we started…Can the existence of an organisation as decidedly iffy as MSI be anything but bad for the game?

No. But maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is this; in the great scheme of things, what radical difference will the introduction a few more dodgy characters make to the sport we adore?

In Britain, football has met far more formidable foe’s than MSI in the past — namely; Heysel, Hillsborough, and Margaret Thatcher. And, each time, when extinction threatened, has risen – Phoenix-like – from the flames. So, let none of us go writing the old boy off just yet – that would be premature.

Football is a fighter.

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