Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

This is a story about deceit, deception, double-dealing and extortion in European football. It also, hopefully, can serve as an introduction to important facts about Japanese football: some basic facts that European fans really need to understand if they are to avoid being suckered again and again by clickbaiters and rumour-pushers. However, this is also a very long-winded, in-depth examination of things like club finances, contract terms and organisational structures. If you are the sort who is often tempted to type the letters "TLDR" . . . this article is probably not for you.

On the other hand, this story deals with a number of issues that (imho) have been poisoning European football in recent years. The recent kabuki-level farce surrounding Giorgios Giakoumakis' departure from Celtic FC seems to be nearing an end, and no doubt there are a lot of people who want the whole incident to "disappear down the memory hole." But in this case, the more attention we pay to the dark benind-the-scenes manoevring, the better. When a major European newspaper and an unscrupulous agent conspire to deceive fans and other football teams, for their own financial benefit, it is a story that deserves to be exposed to the light of day. If you want to get a glimpse at the seedy underbelly of the "Euro transfer season" [more entertaining and risque than Spring Break at Daytona Beach], and also want to learn a few interesting facts about the J.League to dazzle your mates with . . . by all means, read on.  

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Lets begin at the beginning: On January 14, the Glasgow-based publication known as "The Daily Record" published an article which claimed - citing a specific Japanese publication (Sports Nippon aka "Sponichi") - that Giakoumakis was on his way to Japan to undergo a physical. 

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-transfer-news/giorgos-giakoumakis-set-for-urawa-28952329

Most people who have a superficial look at these rumours about Giorgios Giakoumakis agreeing terms to join the Urawa Red Diamonds might think that they "make sense." Truth be told, few people in Japan took them seriously when they first broke. It wasnt the player or the team that made no sense, it was the money. But as time went on and the numbers began to drop into a range that sounded a bit more reasonable, many people in Japan (both press and amateur) began to take the story at face value. The Reds certainly need a striker, and Giakoumakis does seem to want away from Parkhead.

I am in the same GENERAL position with regard to the underlying rumour: That is to say, Im almost certain that the club and player's agent have communicated, and I think that Reds and Celtic have probably exchanged some back-and-forth to lay out what the Reds might be willing to offer and what Celtic might be willing to accept. It is even possible that the two clubs discussed the general outline of a deal, albeit at a price far below what the Scottish press was reporting. I think it extremely unlikely that the Reds ever submitted a formal offer. But I cannot say with absolute certainty that it never happened.

However, here is the problem:

I am not a football journo, and have never pretended to be one (even though I did operate "The Rising Sun News - Football in Japan" for 15 long and rewarding years.). I worked in the financial industry for two decades, as a professional translator and NSDA-qualified supervisory analyst in the equity research division. I can recall what the head of research said to me very early in my career, about how to tell when someone is trying to con you: "If the numbers dont add up, dont believe the story for a second. Instead, you need to start searching for the story that the lie was intended to cover up."


 J.League Rumour and J.League Reality

Although people outside Japan rarely discuss it, the J.League's structure and organising principles are really quite different from anything that fans in Europe would recognize. There are historical reasons for this state of affairs. As a former fan of Yokohama Flugels (the only J.League team to ever collapse financially) I am intimately familiar with these historical reasons. When originally created, the J.League was indeed dominated by corporate interests. But in 1998 financial problems at some of the most successful clubs forced the league to alter its organizational model dramatically.

A thumbnail history of that "Flugels Fiasco" can be found in J.Soccer's history section (warning - the story is even longer than this article):

http://jsoccer.com/new/1998  

In the wake of the Flugels collapse, and with clubs like Bellmare Hiratsuka on the brink of following them into dissolution, the J.League faced a truly existential crisis. To regain the faith of the fans, it was necessary for the J.League to genuinely embrace the concept that they had been selling people for the J.League's first few years: That the clubs belonged to the community where they were located, and were NOT the private playthings of rich individuals or corporations.

Over the next few years the League established some extremely stringent rules on the management of J.League clubs, which prevail to this day. The rules are updated every January, and clubs that fail to meet the rules are often placed under "supervision." In fact, you can find a very useful PowerPoint presentation, designed by the League for all clubs pursuing J.League membership, on the J.League's official website:

https://aboutj.jleague.jp/corporate//wp-content/themes/j_corp/assets/pdf/Jleague_club_guide2022.pdf

From the first page to the last, this Powerpoint presentation focuses on the responsibility that a J.League team has to its local community. This is far from simply lip service. The vast majority of J.League clubs include at least one city or prefectural government among their shareholders. In fact, looking at the corporate ownership profile of every club, only two have "dominant owners" -- Vissel Kobe (which is wholly owned by Rakuten) and Kashiwa Reysol (Hitachi 99%). Most J1 clubs have no single owner with over 70% of the shares, and a club like Ventforet Kofu lists literally hundreds of small shareholders, the largest one being the local TV station YBS (25%). Even in the case of Vissel or Reysol, the owners are limited in what they can and cannot do with the team's finances.

Thus, the notion of some Abrahmovic (or even Glazer)-type figure running a J.League club out of his own private purse is ... lets just say it clearly . . . ludicrous!

To cut a long story short (well ... not short, but you know what I mean), there are very stringent rules on what J.League teams can and cannot do with their finances. The rules are particularly strict on what happens when you run a deficit for two years in a row. The Urawa Red Diamonds ran large deficits in 2020 and 2021, racking up total losses of over Y850 million in those two seasons. Under the J.League's regulations, financial stabilty is overseen by the League itself. You are not allowed to continue losing money, season after season. In 2022 the team was operating under close League scrutiny. In short, anybody who understands the J.League's rules can gain a pretty clear picture of how much money the club has to spend in the current window.

Although Urawa's fiscal 2022 (Jan-23) financial year is not over yet, it DOES appears that they turned things around. We will not know until after the window closes whether or not they booked a profit, but the initial reports suggest that they will. Unfortunately, it is absolutely essential that they do so! If they dont, it will mean another season of fierce financial scrutiny. So in terms of the Urawa Reds' budget for player transfers, not only is the club short on funds, but the amount that it can spend prior to February 1, 2023, is finite and easily calculable.

The point I am trying to make is that anyone with some decent accounting software and a reasonable understanding of the Reds 2021 financial statements could calculate the sort of budget the Reds might have for such an acquisition. I am not privvy to some secret information source that nobody else has heard of. On the contrary, any accountant or financial analyst could look at the Reds' publicly available financial documents, and do the same.

Any purchases that the Reds make in January must stay below the break-even point for profits. For you accounting students out there, this means that the maximum transfer fee for GG *MUST* be less than the sum of: [the current operating surplus for the season] plus [net revenues/losses from the sale or purchase of other players during December and January].  Those who can read Japanese might want to reference this financial analysis:

https://tsukimiso.online/20220508/

One more important point to keep in mind about the J.League and its organizational structure:
Every single J.League club is an independent corporate entity, whose management must be kept separate from its shareholders. People in Europe need to stop believing baseless rumors about how much "big money" is behind such-and-such a Japanese club. The J.League's financial regulations make it almost impossible for rich individuals or corporations to just "pump in money", the way they do in Europe. There *are* some loopholes and dodges that clubs like Vissel Kobe have used, in the past, to "bend" these regulations. But the idea that some person or corporation could come along and "cash up the Urawa Reds" to help them sign a player? Well ... that idea comes from a truly special realm of deluded fantasy.

Incidentally, the Daily Record REALLY needs to hire a fact-checker for the minor stuff. Mitsubishi Motors sold off their stake in the Reds way back in 2016! It is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries that continues to hold a capital stake. The two are NOT the same company. Considering how many times the DR has gone to press with an article that misspelt the word "Urawa", I suppose Im beating a dead horse.


It Doesnt Add Up

So let's go back to that story that the Daily Record published on January 14. When I heard that the Scottish press was reporting something that I knew COULD NOT POSSIBLY be accurate . . . and not as some rumour, but as a "sourced" story claiming that the offer had been received and accepted by Celtic FC . . . I sort of lost my temper. Like the obsessive-compulsive that you all know and {?}, I immediately set off on a quest to find out just who was bullshitting whom.

As I checked out the DR story, I started noting all sorts of inconsistencies, including the fact that they were basing ALL of their claims on a single photo that appeared on a random 23-year-old young woman's twitter feed. Nobody seems to know who the woman is, and the photo simply shows a 2-inch, 1-column blurb in the back pages of some newspaper that states: "Latest Rumor - GG to Urawa Reds", followed by some background information on Giakoumakis. The tweet that accompanied the post claimed that the newspaper in the photo was "the Sponichi" (aka Sports Nippon), but no such article ever appeared in that newspaper. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the story was fabricated to begin with.

But lets not focus on what the DR has done to give away the scam. Lets look instead at the books. Lets examine the dollars, cents, pounds, euro and yen reasons why the alarm bells started ringing in the first place.

"Everybody knows" that the Urawa Reds are in the market for a big front man. That is because they sold last year's ace striker Kaspar Junker, to Nagoya Grampus. Transfermarkt puts the value of that deal at around E1.8 million. Junker *was said to be* on a salary of around 180 million yen (roughly 1.3M Euro). There is some uncertainty to this figure. Although there are plenty of "reputable sources" who claim to know the salaries of J.League players, in Japan that sort of information is not usually disclosed. Some players have suggested (*off the record*) that numbers posted in the media inflate their actual salaries. It can be assumed that they represent "high-end" estimates. 

Based on these estimates from "reliable sources", it is possible to work out the approximate budget for a GG acquisition. The Reds have released some veteran players recently, so their salary budget might possibly be juggled around to accommodate figures slightly higher than the figures laid out below. To do that, however, the Reds would have to either limit other existing players salaries, or not sign appropriately experienced talent to replace the departures. FWIW the Reds roster has already been published. I am operating on the assumption that no professional football team - even one as historically spendthrift as the Red Rhinestones - would go so far out of their way to accommodate a guy who has never played outside of Europe.

Anyway, getting down to pounds and pence . . . The Reds would probably WANT to get Giakoumakis for Y350 million (2.5 million Euro) as a transfer fee, though they might conceivably go as high as Y400 million (slightly less than E3 million). Any figure higher than 3 million Euro just isnt credible, unless Celtic included terms under which the Reds could delay payment until a subsequent fiscal year. Again - this something they have no reason to do, and therefore I made no effort to determine whether or not the J.League would allow such a thing. On salary terms, the budget is even more easy to ballpark. There is no way that the Reds could pay Giakoumakis more than Y250 million per season, and they would almost certainly be pressing for a figure closer to Y200 million (1.4 million Euro or 1.25 million quid a year).

It isnt simply that the numbers released by the Daily Record dont add up. What really clinched the deal in my mind was the fact that some Italian prankster later posted numbers on Twitter talking about the supposed transfer fee and salary. Pulling out a calculator, I discovered that the rumoured figures were almost EXACTLY 50% higher than the numbers I had come up with on my own.

What a coincidence.

"If the numbers dont add up, dont believe the story for a second. Instead, you need to start searching for the story that the lie was intended to cover up."

Those words resonated deeply when I first heard the poppycock that the Daily Record has been dishing out. And that is what I have been doing for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, nothing that anybody is saying about this "transfer deal" matches up with the financial figures I outlined above. In short, the story that the DR printed is unquestionably untrue, but one can only speculate on what really happened.

But since everyone sems to be speculating at random these days, allow me to speculate:

A certain individual (I think we all know who) knew that GG was unhappy in a backup role at Celtic, and wanted to help him secure a transfer to Sampdoria. This person knew the maximum numbers the Reds were considering, but also knew that they would not match Celtic's asking price. Therfore the two teams were not actively discussing the deal any further. However, this person also knew that if he could get a club like Sampdoria or Atlanta to bid (let's say) 4 million quid, Celtic would accept. The only hurdle now was to convince one of the two clubs to up their bid to L4 million. How can he possibly do this?

The key was to convince Sampdoria or Atlanta United that GG was being actively pursued by other clubs, and unless they submitted a better bid, he would sign with another team. However, since Sampdoria would surely know about interest from other European clubs, it was important to invent a rumour that they would be unlikely to check or verify. Hey, I know! Let's pretend that an Asian club wants to buy him!

Although the Japanese newspaper Sports Nippon (aka Sponichi) usually is careful about how they word stories that are based on rumour, many other publications are a bit less scrupulous. It would not be hard to find a small tabloid that would run a story that was based on little more than rumor. Therefore, this person planted a story in a little Japanese scandal sheet saying that the Reds were about to sign GG. They then asked somebody in Japan photograph the article, post the picture on Twitter, and say that it appeared in the Sponichi. The next morning in Europe, the Daily Record publishes the same story, claims it appeared in the Sponichi, and waits for Sampdoria or Atlanta United to bite.

The only problem is, the Reds never actually made such an offer. Celtic obviously knew this for a fact. Sampdoria and Atlanta must have quickly figured it out. Nobody took the bait.

Now the agent unscrupulous person began to panic, and knew he had to double down, so he got a reasonably well-known Italian rumor monger to echo the GG to Reds story, with specific numbers. By now, however, even people in Europe were catching on and starting to see that the numbers being thrown around did not make sense. There was nothing for the unscrupulous person and the Daily Record to do, but drop the story and pretend they had never claimed that GG was on his way to Japan.

Since that time, the Daily Record has been steadily shifting its story. By Jan 16 they had dropped the claim that a story appeared in the Sponichi. They subsequently quote only "Japanese sources" (funny that ... all the Japanese sources quote the DR). When it became clear that the big transfer fee story was bunk, they started claiming that GG was "set to double his current wage" (unaware, apparently, that this claim is even MORE ridiculous). I suppose, in the end, the strategy "worked". After all, GG got his move to another club. 

No doubt there are a few "football insiders" who will read the above and think: "How naive! These things happen every day. This is just a routine event in the world of football transfers. "
True. But how often do you catch them red-handed?

I have referred the article in question to the IPSO. They probably will do f***all about it. But someone needs to call out this sort of behaviour. My only objective in publishing this article is to inform football fans in Europe, and try to help them avoid being scammed by unscrupulous clickbaiters. The press is not your friend. And some members of the press are only there to wind you up.


 

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