Article intéressant paru dans l'Athletic, ça montre bien que depuis le départ de Wenger les loups peuvent rentrer dans la bergerie et qu'on va avoir des transferts surprenants dans le futur. C'est pas très rassurant cette connection entre Edu et Joorabchian.
Edu, Kia Joorabchian and what it means for Arsenal
Par James McNicholas Il y a 7h 24
Since Kia Joorabchian’s family fled Iran after the fall of the Shah, he has had various incarnations: aspiring scientist, oil trader, newspaper tycoon and notorious football magnate to name but a few. Through all the years, one thing has remained consistent in his identity: Joorabchian is an Arsenal fan.
Some years ago, Joorabchian investigated the possibility of investing in the club of his heart. Ultimately, he made do with a £100,000-a-year corporate box. Until recently, his considerable influence in football did not extend to the Arsenal boardroom. He remained a spectator, just another supporter. When Joorabchian took his seat to watch Arsene Wenger’s teams, it was strictly pleasure — no business.
However, that is now changing. Wenger’s departure has opened the door to a new era. There is another team close to Joorabchian’s heart — Brazil’s Corinthians — and it is through his association with the Sao Paulo outfit that he came to know their former player Edu Gaspar. When Arsenal wanted Edu to be their new technical director earlier this year, it was Joorabchian who brokered the deal.
Joorabchian, who has spent so long on the periphery at Arsenal, finally has a man on the inside.
The year before Joorabchian made headlines in England by bringing Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham United, he had already sent shockwaves through South American football by shifting the Argentine pair to Corinthians.
It was 2004 when the Brazilian club struck a deal with MSI (Media Sports Investments), a London-based investment fund fronted by Joorabchian. He publicly promised to rival Real Madrid and Manchester United in building “a team of Galacticos”. MSI pledged to wipe the club’s debts and invest a minimum of $35 million in exchange for 51 per cent of profits. A club that had been on the brink of economic crisis suddenly became a landing spot for some of South America’s brightest talent.
The $22 million deal to sign Tevez from Argentina’s Boca Juniors was reportedly four times the previous Brazilian transfer record, and MSI put up a significant percentage of the money. In return, they had control of 35 per cent of the player’s registration rights — a strategy that was to become common practice for Joorabchian’s fund. Mascherano is said to have arrived as part of a collaboration between MSI and Global Soccer Agencies (GSA) — a firm linked to Israeli ‘super-agent’ Pini Zahavi.
It was around this time that Joorabchian also began working with Jorge Mendes. It was the Portuguese agent who oversaw the transfer of Nuno Assis from Vitoria Guimares to Benfica in 2005. What was seemingly a straightforward deal between two Portuguese teams was in fact significantly more complex: the €600,000 transfer fee was paid in full by MSI. The player was then registered with Dinamo Moscow, before getting loaned to Benfica. MSI were effectively trading in ‘player futures’.
The Corinthians deal came a few years before either Stan Kroenke or Alisher Usmanov bought shares in Arsenal, and Joorabchian has since admitted MSI explored the possibility of a takeover at the club before deeming it “far, far too expensive”. Corinthians came cheaper, and also afforded a chance to control the South American market — not only would the club become the destination of choice for local talent, but would also be the principle point of export when it came to moving those players to Europe.
Edu’s career with Corinthians and Brazil would later be built on his relationship with revered manager Tite, but back in 2005 Joorabchian was less than enamoured with the coach and wanted to hire his own man. According to Brazilian media, a furious Joorabchian took the coach to task after a 1-0 derby defeat against Sao Paolo, even criticising him for choosing a player other than Tevez as penalty taker. Hours later, Tite was gone, replaced by Argentine Daniel Passarella.
MSI’s impact on Corinthians was initially positive: in 2005, they won their first Brazilian championship in six years. However, things soon unravelled. The partnership between Corinthians and MSI was scheduled to run for 10 years but lasted just three.
Cracks began to show when questions were inevitably asked about where the money was coming from. Who were MSI, the mysterious consortium Joorabchian represented? The Sao Paulo organised crime squad and the state public prosecutor instigated an inquiry which concluded there was sufficient evidence to “show that the Corinthians-MSI partnership is being used to practise the laundering of money”. Controversial Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili were identified as probable investors. Patarkatsishvili, the owner of Dinamo Tbilisi, but was best known for his aggressive attempts to assume political power in Georgia.
Joorabchian denied their involvement, but then-Corinthians president Alberto Dualib has since admitted to attending meetings with both men. He also named Berezovsky as an investor in Corinthians’ planned stadium overhaul.
MSI, Joorabchian and Dualib faced charges of money laundering, currency evasion, tax evasion and gang formation. In June 2007, the partnership was scrapped. Joorabchian was wanted for arrest, and MSI left its Brazilian offices empty and abandoned. Dualib was left to deal with the fury of the fans, who took to the streets in protest. Six months later, a debt-ridden Corinthians were relegated for the first time in their history.
Remarkably, that was not the end of Joorabchian’s association with Corinthians. It would be 2008 before his arrest warrant was suspended; 2014 before he was cleared of all charges. Through that period Joorabchian was less conspicuous in Brazil, but never fully out of sight.
The fall-out between Dualib and Joorabchian was significant. When Andres Sanchez rivalled Dualib for the club’s presidency in 2007, Jooarabchian canvassed for the new man. “He [Joorabchian] never walked away”, Dualib told Portal da Band. “In the very election that I lost, he worked for the opposition”.
Once Sanchez took power, Joorabchian was back in favour. For their part, Corinthians stabilised and returned to the top flight at the end of 2008. Having done so, they made a couple of striking signings: goal-scoring legend Ronaldo, who had spent a year out of the game recovering from knee surgery, and former Arsenal and Valencia midfielder Edu Gaspar.
For Edu, this move represented a move back to the club where he had begun his professional career more than a decade before. Edu is revered in Sao Paulo — so much so that when he was robbed at gunpoint in his Brazilian home, the perpetrators paused briefly to ensure a terrified Edu signed an autograph.
“I was born in Corinthians,’ said Edu. “I started playing for Corinthians at five, I went to the first team, won important titles, was sold and then I came back and finished my career here … Corinthians is a club like no other in the world. Now, it is a rich club but it came from the poor people.”
It was an emotional homecoming, but not an especially successful ones: a succession of injury problems limited him to just 15 Serie A appearances in a season and a half. Player and club agreed it would be best to cancel his contract and allow him to retire. Edu was only 32.
As one door closed though, another opened. A few months later, Corinthians announced Edu would succeed William Machado as sporting director.
It’s here that his working relationship with Joorabchian began in earnest. In Edu’s first year in charge, Corinthians were engaged in a lengthy transfer saga over none other than Joorabchian client Tevez. After Tevez allegedly refused to come on as a Manchester City substitute in a Champions League match against Bayern Munich in September 2011, Edu and Joorabchian held talks in London about a possible €20 million deal. Edu also travelled to meet Patrick Vieira, then-football development executive at City. In the end, after a significant fine and lengthy exile, Tevez chose to remain in England.
Nevertheless, Corinthians built an impressive team, featuring a number of known Joorabchian associates, such as future Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho. With Tite back at the helm, Corinthians won the 2011 Brazilian title.
When they beat Boca Juniors the following June to win the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent to the Champions League, Joorabchian was present in the corporate seats. Later that year, they completed a historic treble by beating Chelsea 1-0 in the Club World Cup Final. As Edu stepped on to the pitch in Yokohama, Japan to join the trophy celebrations, Joorabchian is believed to again have been watching from the stands.
All the while, Joorabchian was becoming a pervasive and powerful figure across world football — including England. With Wenger’s Arsenal still unwilling to do business, his London outpost was Chelsea.
The likes of Ramires, Oscar, Lucas Piazon and a certain David Luiz all wound up at Stamford Bridge, thanks to the work of Joorabchian and Brazilian business partner Giuliano Bertolucci.
Joorabchian is keen to point out that, unlike Bertolucci, he is not a football agent. He styles himself as an intermediary rather than a player representative.
“I’m not a football agent and I don’t practise as an agent”, he told The Guardian in 2008. “I think the agency business is very different … We also have a business that advises players on their rights. We advise them on their image, on their financial stability, we advise them on every aspect, because a lot of agents are not professional to do that. A lot of agents work for us and basically they just do the player transfer. We provide the structure, and for that they work for us”.
Joorabchian found himself at the heart of London’s burgeoning Brazilian football community. His wife Tatiana is Brazilian, and his relationships with his clientele became social as well as professional. However, when Chelsea faced Corinthians in that Club World Cup Final, Piazon was in little doubt as to who Joorabchian would be cheering on. “He is a Corinthians fanatic,” he told Trivela. “His two teams are Corinthians and Arsenal. If we play against Arsenal, he doesn’t support us.”
Joorabchian and Edu’s relationship was not always straightforward. Not every player deal born of it was deemed a success. In 2013, Corinthians consented to sign Joorabchian client Alexandre Pato from AC Milan for €15 million.
His reported €45,000 a week wages made him one of the club’s highest earners. However, the move became an unmitigated disaster.
His salary and attitude put him at odds with team-mates, and the nadir arrived when he missed the decisive penalty when a Brazilian cup quarter-final against Gremio went to a shootout. With the club’s place in the competition at stake, Pato went for a tame Panenka which barely got off the ground. Brazil international goalkeeper Dida fell to his side to make the simplest of saves. The incident was somehow emblematic of Pato’s perceived failings: a lackadaisical attitude and a preference for style over substance. Soon after, around a hundred Corinthians ultras stormed the training ground, reportedly brandishing crowbars and singing songs about breaking Pato’s legs. It’s a deal Corinthians fans have since dubbed the worst in their history.
Edu himself admitted the deal had been a spectacular failure: “We were all happy when he arrived – even the media was cheerful, I remind you. But he didn’t have the guts that our supporters demand of any player signed by Corinthians. It’s not that he should have been mean on the pitch, but to have a little bit of knife between his teeth; to think, ‘If I’m not doing well technically today I’ll do it in another way, I’ll use my strength’.”
Corinthians were ultimately so desperate to get rid of Pato that Edu agreed to pay half his salary for the duration of a two-year loan with neighbours and rivals Sao Paulo. When that expired at the end of 2015, it looked as if Pato might have to return to Corinthians. However, another loan club was hurriedly secured for the next six months.
Arsenal were linked in the press, but Wenger flatly denied the rumours. Where could Pato possibly go? Chelsea, of course. He joined Joorabchian’s Brazilian contingent at Stamford Bridge, starting only once and making two total appearances, before moving on to Spain and then China. In March, he rejoined Sao Paulo.
China was a powerful new market for Joorabchian. Just two days before Pato moved to London, a £25 million deal took Ramires from Chelsea to Jiangsu Suning.
In the same month, four players left freshly-crowned Brazilian champions Corinthians for Chinese football. Roberto de Andrade, Corinthians’ president, lamented that “the Chinese clubs don’t even know my name”. One suspects the Chinese buyers may well have been more familiar with those of Edu and Joorabchian.
In June 2016, months after making Corinthians champions again, Tite left for Brazil’s national team and took Edu with him. The former midfielder spent the best part of three years with Brazil until Arsenal’s head of football Raul Sanllehi began negotiations with Joorabchian — now representing Edu — to bring him back to the club he played for from 2001-05, including the Invincibles season.
During this past summer’s transfer window, Joorabchian took the unusual step of speaking out about the club he has supported since his childhood in London. Asked to comment on the Arsenal ownership situation, he said: “I feel for those guys who have just come in. They have incredible, knowledgeable people there.
“(Unai) Emery is a fantastic coach who has worked at Sevilla and at Paris Saint-Germain, Raul (Sanllehi) has been at Barcelona, and Edu has been at Brazil. I think finally in the backroom staff, they have people who really understand football and are football people, the question is whether or not the finances will be made available.”
Ultimately, money was made available to spend — and a chunk of it went on signing David Luiz, a Joorabchian client.
The deal to sign the Brazil defender came about in somewhat strange circumstances. In January, with his Chelsea contract just a few months from expiring, Luiz was frustrated at only being offered a one-year extension. However, once Chelsea were placed under a two-window transfer embargo by FIFA, the club relented, and in May he signed a new contract believed to run until 2021.
Barely three months later, Luiz was so keen to leave for Arsenal that he reportedly refused to train.
Around this time, Arsenal were being publicly linked with a bid for another Joorabchian client, Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho. Romain Molina, a journalist who has written a book about Emery, was moved to say: “Kia is behind the arrival of Edu at Arsenal, so the interests of the club will follow his own, as usual.
“To allow Kia to bring back the sporting director brings many risks — ask QPR, Reading (both have signed several Joorabchian clients), Corinthians. It remains to be seen whether Edu remains ‘independent’ in his choices. The past shows that Kia, Pini (Zahavi) and family have the last word.”
Arsenal have no such concerns and are happy that they and Edu maintain full control of such decisions.
In the end, Luiz joined Arsenal on a long-term contract. It was the third time he had changed clubs on a deadline day in his last four moves.
Joorabchian is once more a familiar face at the Emirates — only this time, he’s welcome in the directors’ box as well as the corporate seats. Sanllehi has shown himself to be amenable to working with ‘super-agents’ — or the less catchy ‘super-intermediaries’, if Joorabchian prefers.
This is already opening up new markets for Arsenal. In the summer, Arsenal signed two Brazilians, Luiz and teenage forward Gabriel Martinelli. One imagines they won’t be the last. With Edu at the helm and Joorabchian in the background, there’s every possibility Arsenal could displace Chelsea as the destination of choice for South American footballers in London.
Perhaps Joorabchian might also help Arsenal offload some of their unwanted players. Historically, they have been poor sellers, but his contacts in China and elsewhere could provide a lucrative exit route for those deemed surplus to requirements.
Joorabchian maintains an interest in Corinthians — just a few weeks ago, he was linked with a deal to broker a partnership between Corinthians and Ferroviaria, a smaller club in Sao Paulo state. However, his focus may now be shifting to London.
For a long time, Wenger’s Arsenal were uncomfortable embracing some of the realities of the modern market. However, this is a new era. Sanllehi has willingly struck this Faustian pact. Arsenal have opened the door to the man who helped bring Corinthians unprecedented success and disastrous failure.
Hiring Edu meant welcoming Joorabchian into the Arsenal fold. For better or worse, the club may never be quite the same again.