Third party ownership: Is the English League ready for it?

Pini Zahavi, agent extra-ordinaire
Pini Zahavi is the super agent who has his hands in all the deals involving player transfers and club takeovers. He was pivotal in the deal that bought Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham. The two Argentinians are owned by a private company, Media Sports Investment (MSI), in which Kia Joorabchian, till recently was a partner. The company owns a 100% holding in Tevez while MSI and Globo (A Brazilian media company) split 50% each on Mascherano. Thus, West Ham did not have to pay for the transfer of both players except for £5m in agent fees.
The practice of players beholden to private companies rather than clubs is nothing new in South America, as Zahavi claims, it has been going on for more than 25 years and will become so here ‘if English football is to survive’.
Why is this happening? According to Zahavi, “Supporters don’t care who owns the club. They care only how the team is doing. This is the same in Japan, Korea, Argentina, Colombia, Africa, everywhere.”
The practice of third party ownership is akin to body shopping, the practice whereby, scores of Indian software programmers were brought to the US, UK, and Germany, through private companies who contracted them out to tech companies like IBM and Hewlett Packard. These programmers were brought to IBM for a particular project, and when completed they would move on to another company. Some got bought out by companies they worked in. In the middle of the IT crash, many engineers found that they were out of jobs and in violation of their visa status. Many returned to India in the early 2000’s. The demand for a ready supply of programmers was fueled by the shortage of tech personnel produced in US universities. At that time the USA was going through the IT boom many companies wanted to cash onto. Silicon Valley was Irrational Exuberance. The 2000 dot com crash saw the carcasses of many companies with basically no worthwhile product to sell, only fancy buzzwords. The ones that survived and are doing well are the ones who had solid products, invested heavily in R&D, and cut their dependence on bodyshopping.
The problem with the Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano type of third party transfers is that it further curtails the abbreviated period of time allotted to player development that clubs are already moving away from, in the peer pressure world of having to attain instant success. Implicit in all this, is that it further reduces the club’s responsibility of evaluating whether the player is needed at all. In fact, Tevez and Mascherano were bargaining chips in Kia Joorabchian’s renewed bid for the control of West Ham. There is a feeling that Kia Joorabchian was pinning his hopes that Alan Pardew would build the Hammers attack around them, conveniently forgetting that West Ham actually already has a perfectly respectable team and that Pardew was committed to them. It has Nigel Reo Coker, the Hammers captain at the tender age of 21, who should be a regular fixture in the England squad in a few seasons. The Hammers had a great 2005 season with this very team, and there was every reason that they could do better this season. When Pardew made clear that he was not in the business of placating players, it was obvious that Kia Joorbachian and his business partner, Eli Papouchado would have his head if they had succeeded in the takeover. A more pliant coach was already being sought out.
If Pini Zahavi was hoping for an audition extolling the virtues of third party transfers, he could not have chosen a worse one. As for supporters not caring who owns the club, maybe he should talk to the West Ham fans, who by approving of Eggert Magnusson’s ownership showed that they were less than impressed by the haggling of the Kia Joorabchian- Eli Papouchado takeover bid, that would have left very little cash for future transfers and not enough for West Ham’s proposed Olympic Stadium takeover after the 2012 Olympics.

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