Limassol football club Apollon appears to be involved in third-party ownership (TPO) of players, a practice banned by the sport’s governing body Fifa, according to Football Leaks.
The report said Apollon buys players who do not even become part of the team. “Their presence at the club exists only on paper, not on the field,” the report said.
Third-party ownership, also known as third-party investment in players, refers to an agreement whereby a third party provides a club (or player) with money in return for a percentage of a specific player’s future transfer fee.
Third parties can take a variety of forms, including investment funds, companies, private investors, and individuals with business interests in football, such as agents.
The practice, which originated in South America, has been banned by Fifa and the EU. A 2013 study commissioned by the European Club Association (ECA) showed that in Europe, TPO is highly concentrated in certain countries: Portugal; parts of central and eastern Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, and Montenegro); and Spain.
Defenders of the practice argue that third-party investment is a much-needed and legitimate source of external funding for clubs, and that it helps small and medium-sized clubs preserve competitiveness against bigger and wealthier rivals, since it enables them to sign players they could not otherwise afford.
Opponents, including European football’s governing body, Uefa, as well as the world footballers’ union, Fifpro are concerned about player freedom, suggesting that players will be pressured to transfer, as that is in the investors’ inherent interest, and will lose control of their career.
Critics also point to potential conflicts of interest in the event that the same fund or company ‘owns’ multiple footballers playing in competing teams, with a threat to the game’s integrity.
The opacity of the TPO practice and of the third-party structures involved also raises concerns, according to the EU.
In the case of Apollon Limassol, it appears a football club has taken on the role of third-party owner, the Football Leaks report said.
The team behind Football Leaks, experienced journalists, photographers, film-makers, information-designers and coders, has identified seven players from Serbia and Romania signed or part-bought by Apollon, often without any publicity.
“But they never played for the team. In at least one case, they did not even go to Cyprus,” the report said.
The revelation came at a time when Fifpro reported that 29 per cent of football players who changed clubs for a transfer fee “said they were either put under pressure to join another club or did not end up in the team they wanted.”
“This also risks Apollon Limassol being called out by FIFA as a “bridge” club – a destination club where a player never takes to the field, but which acts as a ‘conduit’ between two other clubs. FIFA has sanctioned clubs in Argentina and Uruguay for this practice,” the report said.
Linked with the scheme is Israeli agent Pinhas ‘Pini’ Zahavi, “who, through a network of lawyers, intermediaries, club officials, politicians and offshore companies, is a pre-eminent football oligarch.”
Citing a document and testimony of a former official, Zahavi is a shareholder in Apollon.
Neither Zahavi or Nikos Kirzis, chairman of Apollon, responded to the group’s questions.
Read the report here