During the transfer season after performance has been analysed, footage poured over, statistics scrutinised some clubs choose to review a player’s activities off the field. And that’s where we come in.
We work with leading European clubs to provide enhanced intelligence, due diligence and social media analysis into the off-pitch activities and connections of potential transfer targets. It is not our job to tell clubs not to buy a particular player. Our role is to help our clients mitigate risk by providing intelligence that fully informs decisions when it comes down to contract signing.
But what do our reports cover?
Social media and sentiment analysis
We perform deep analysis of the social media profiles of transfer targets to see if there are any posts or activity which might suggest emerging issues, opinions, language and connections which could reflect poorly upon the club. Our sentiment analysis also provides a gauge as to how said target is received and perceived.
We were asked by our client – a top six Premier League club – to provide intelligence on a English player still under contract with another EPL team. While our research suggested no ethical, criminal, political or social media issues, deep analysis of corporate records databases uncovered several business connections and financial issues which were considered a potential reputational risk to our client. On the basis of our intelligence, the client decided not to proceed with the transfer.
Third-party rights issues
Although Third Party Ownership (TPO) was banned by FIFA in 2015, an unpublished Uefa report cited in The Guardian in 2020 reported that “is still a well-established reality”.
Other ownership issues – such as image rights – can remain undisclosed if not properly investigated. One reported example is Paulo Dybala, whose transfer to Spurs ultimately collapsed because a third party marketing agency owned his rights, and the issue could not be resolved.
Agent and representation
Agents have a fiduciary responsibility – that is one of trust and to act in the best interests of the player but we investigate exactly who they are representing, their roles and remit and understand whether there might be any conflicts of interest.
It is not uncommon within the football industry for family members to be involved in legal, financial and commercial interests of top-flight footballers. While this is not in itself necessarily problematic, our intelligence will identify whether there have been historical conflicts between a player’s entourage and previous clubs.
Performance statistics are – rightly – the focus of transfer deals but at what point does a player’s behaviour off the pitch impact and potentially tarnish a club’s reputation? Whether it’s repeated drunken and antisocial behaviour to more serious criminal offences, players’ behaviour off the pitch can sometimes be overlooked. We’ve put together some examples of when players’ antics have caused clubs some acute headaches.
We investigate fundamental visa issues where relevant such as immigration status, right to work. While problems are relatively uncommon, they are not unheard of. In 2007 the then 19-year-old Al-Hassan Bangura, a midfielder for Watford FC, was threatened with being deported to his native Sierra Leone. He claimed he had been trafficked at the age of 15 and had lived in Britain ever since without a passport or driving licence. He was eventually spared deportation. Although this example wasn’t specifically related to a transfer deal we have investigated targets amid questions about illegal immigration.
We provided intelligence to one of our UK clients on an African player available on a free transfer from a Serie A club. Research in Italy raised question marks about the player’s immigration status and so further manual checks were commissioned in his home country which confirmed that the player was using an assumed name and had not obtained the necessary visa paperwork before moving to Italy.
Non-sport commercial and corporate interests
As detailed above, we have recently alerted our clients to one transfer target’s involvement in a series of heavily indebted business ventures.
Some players may choose to have other commercial interests; we look into potential red flags such as fraud, bankruptcies, financials and ethics which could cause unwanted distractions for clubs.
While some footballers might not nail their colours to the mast quite like AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, who controversially said: “I agree with some aspects of fascism like patriotism and the values of the Catholic religion”, we investigate controversial political viewpoints and activism which could cause our clients embarrassment further down the line.
Our research teams and investigative journalists work in more than 40 languages with a capability which extends across every major jurisdiction worldwide. If necessary, we will perform on-the-ground manual inquiries using trusted local affiliates to firm up any information we uncover.
If your club or team is involved in player transfers, talk to us about a package tailored specifically to your needs or download a sample report here.