The world of player transfers, unsurprisingly, has a seedy underbelly. But now there’s a new website run by an anonymous group that aims to shed light on the shady dealings in football— and it has clubs across Europe running scared.
Football Leaks, currently manifested as a Wordpress blog, is mostly serving as a repository for document dumps for leaked information and data. As this profile in the New York Times details, the site started as a means to investigate and expose the prevalence of third-party ownership (TPO) deals among Portuguese football clubs but has since expanded to include information on English, Spanish, Dutch, and French clubs.
The NYT piece highlights Football Leaks’ targeting of FC Twente, currently struggling near the bottom of the Eredivisie. The site published numerous documents exposing player transfer deals involving Doyen Sports, a sports investment firm based in Malta known for buying and trading in third-party shares of footballers. A recent deal, exposed by Football Leaks, showed that Doyen lent $5.5 million to Twente in exchange for the economic rights to five of their players. One of them, Serbian attacking midfielder Dušan Tadi?, was sold to Southampton a year and a half ago for $16.5 million.
Twente’s entanglements with Doyen not only destabilized their financial situation, they forced the club into a corner after trying to cover up their ties to Doyen as well as their mounting debts. The situation with Twente has gotten so out of hand that the Dutch FA has taken the extraordinary step of banning the club from European competition for three years over their misdealings. The RNFA has also threatened to revoke the club’s professional license unless they fully cooperate with an independent investigation.
A spokesperson for the website, going by the pseudonym “John,” insists that the intentions behind Football Leaks are noble, saying that “[t]his kind of secrecy about contracts and secret clauses is killing this sport.” Previous incarnations of the website have appeared on the blogging platform Livejournal— previously home to the sort of personal and fandom-oriented blogging that Tumblr now hosts but is currently popular among Russian dissidents— as well as Russian-based web and mail servers. Russia has served as an online home for Football Leaks until fairly recently due to the government’s general reluctance to cooperate with Western law enforcement, although recent crackdowns have forced Football Leaks on the move. Authorities throughout Europe are understood to be actively looking into the identities of the people behind Football Leaks, with Portguese police calling them an “international criminal organization.”
As a result of their financial dealings and their exposure by Football Leaks, Twente is in serious trouble. They’re banned from Europe, dealing with a huge cash shortage, and fighting relegation; all without a chairman. While it’s hard to say how many clubs have taken advantage of TPO deals and outside investment, those that have must surely be looking at Twente and Football Leaks and feeling a little nervous. It’s entirely possible this is the start of a much, much bigger story.