Much has been made of third party ownership in football. In the Premier League, the only famous cases we have of it are Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, who turned up at West Ham United from South America to the surprise of us all, not least their manager Alan Pardew. Because they were still essentially owned by Kia Joorabchian’s business, they contravened third party ownership regulations in the Premier League. They ended up having to pay Sheffield United millions of pounds in compensation, as with the benefit of their presence, it was West Ham who stayed up, and conceivably would not have done without Tevez’s goals.
Mascherano then moved, on a permanent transfer, to Liverpool. Tevez was loaned - and it was a loan under an unprecedented amount of focus due to West Ham’s troubles - to Manchester United for two seasons. That was before he then decided that his future would be better served by a move to Manchester City, where he was bought outright from his agency.
Joorabchian was famous for being a businessman with many interests scattered across football, just like another agent, Jorge Mendes. Mendes has had dealings with many United players for the best part of a decade: Cristiano Ronaldo, David de Gea, Bebe, Anderson, Luis Nani and others have all been involved with him, and he has other interests. He is Angel Di Maria’s agent, and Radamel Falcao’s, too. At other clubs, he represents not just players, but managers too, like Jose Mourinho.
Mendes goes further than that, too. According to David Conn, he was or is involved with an investment scheme to buy ownership rights to players. He even acknowledges the conflict of interest which is inherent in also brokering deals for players and clubs, potentially those players and clubs he might have opposing financial interests in. So far so murky, but this is football, and there’s no suggestion that Mendes has ever acted egregiously badly. It is worth noting that with the amount of control Mendes has over the future of the best players in the world, it might not be in the interest of clubs to do anything than flatter him and treat him as well as they can.
Mendes, though, is not the only businessman with links to Manchester United who has taken an interest in third party ownership - now, in theory, with some exceptions as Rory Smith has written in The Times, being phased out. There is the Singaporean Peter Lim. Lim has a history of investing large sums of money in football and in football clubs.
Peter Lim bought 50% of Salford City shares, bought from the Class of 92’ (David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs). Salford City is the club that the Co92 have invested in with the aim of taking players discarded from professional clubs in the surrounding area, taking them on and then selling them on at a profit back into the top leagues. Lim is a close friend of Jorge Mendes.
Similarly to Mendes, Lim also is interested in third party ownership, and as he was completing his takeover of Valencia in Spain, he owned the economic rights to two players, Moreno Machado and Andre Gomes. They moved from Benfica (a club Mendes also has extensive dealings with) to Valencia. Lim now owns and controls Valencia. Lim also once tried to mount a takeover attempt for Liverpool, though that was ultimately unsuccessful.
As well as his involvement with Valencia and Salford City, Lim is also part of the group who constructed Hotel Football, the hotel next to Old Trafford which regularly has United ex-pros to come to be part of events, and also is now owned by Giggs and Gary Neville. Butt, a coach at United, is also a part-owner of Salford City. So Giggs, assistant manager of Manchester United and part-owner of Salford City, Neville, assistant coach of England, Sky pundit, and part-owner of Salford City have overlapping interests, in theory.
And in practice. A youngster released by Manchester City, Sadiq El-Fitouri, joined Salford City and was in turn recommended to United by Scholes and Phil Neville. It’s not clear if United paid Salford a fee for the player, but regardless, it is nice PR nonetheless, and won’t hurt Salford’s chances of getting hold of players who are released, who note the ascent of El-Fitouri.
It doesn’t just concern United and Salford, but Valencia now, too. In the last year there have been rumoured moves from Valencia for both Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia, two players who could conceivably find themselves on the fringes of first-team action next season, the kind of player who can stay or leave depending on tight circumstances. It goes the other way, too - Nicolas Otamendi is evidently trying to stir up a transfer or a new contract, and United have long been linked with him. As well as that, Manchester United have been linked with the aformentioned Andre Gomes. How many conflicts of interest can exist at the same time?
Consider the situation this summer. Louis van Gaal receives an offer from Valencia for Mata. Van Gaal is not sure quite where Mata is in his plans so he asks his assistant, Ryan Giggs, for advice. Giggs has shared business interests with Lim, whose club wants Mata, and his Co92 colleagues, also in with Lim’s investments, have also had their say in the media before. There are numerous examples of Neville not being a fan of Mata - here is one, for example. Paul Scholes has had his doubts too.
Van Gaal asks Giggs, and Giggs replies. Even if Giggs answers and believes he is answering totally objectively, there’s almost no way in which he’d be able to. Giggs, Butt, the Neville brothers and Scholes have been linked with a takeover in conjunction with Lim in the past, and it is reasonable to doubt how Giggs’ presence in his vital role at United has been tolerated this far.