Manchester United’s Rojo Subject of Investor Legal Battle

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Marcos Rojo
Argentine defender Marcos Rojo. Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Soccer’s global player-transfer market returned to the spotlight Tuesday when sport’s top court began a three-day hearing into a dispute between Sporting Lisbon and a fund backed by anonymous investors.

The hearing at the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport centers on the 20 million-euro ($22.6 million) sale last season of Argentine defender Marcos Rojo to Manchester United. Doyen, a London-based fund, helped the Portuguese club buy Rojo in 2012. Sporting withheld 75 percent of the proceeds owed to Doyen for the sale to United, saying the fund breached its contract by inducing the transfer against the club’s interest.

Doyen disputes the allegation. The case is being followed closely amid legal challenges to a ban from soccer governing body FIFA into the practice of so-called third-party ownership, a process where investors purchase a player’s transfer rights. The practice, widespread in South America, has expanded in parts of Europe.

At the tribunal, Sporting will make “a cry for moralization in football,” club President Bruno de Carvalho said in an e-mail. Players “cannot in any way be regarded as a sort of commodity.”

Doyen, which declined to comment because the case is ongoing, paid 75 percent of the 5.4 million-euro fee that took Rojo to Portugal from Russia’s Spartak Moscow in 2012 in exchange for a similar percentage of any future sale fee. Under the then-FIFA regulations, clubs could sell the rights provided third-party funds didn’t influence trades. Sporting returned Doyen’s initial investment, the fund said.

Transfer Considered

In an August 2014 statement Sporting said it told Rojo’s agent in confidence that it would consider selling the 25-year-old player should it receive an acceptable offer. Following a July 23, 2014, statement that Rojo would be staying in Lisbon, “there were several meetings with clubs made by Doyen to offer our player,” Sporting said.

Doyen Chief Executive Officer Nelio Lucas sent text messages to de Carvalho pressuring him to sell Rojo, according to the statement. The team alleges that Lucas said in a text that Rojo “will start problems” should he not be allowed to leave. Lucas denied the allegations at the time.

“Without the intervention of Doyen, through financing, Marcos Rojo would not be a Sporting player,” Doyen said on its website. Doyen has joined the Portuguese and Spanish soccer federations in a complaint to the European Commission against FIFA’s ban.

Rojo is part of Argentina’s squad at the Copa America in Chile that meets Uruguay Tuesday.

Active Investor

Doyen has become one of the most active third-party investors. Last year it profited from the sale of Eliaquim Mangala from Porto to Manchester City. Porto got 30.5 million euros for its 56.7 percent stake, it said at the time. Doyen paid 2.5 million euros for 33 percent of Mangala’s economic rights in 2011.

Porto President Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa and a former Sporting president, Luis Godinho Lopes, are giving evidence on behalf of Doyen, which is also being supported by senior officials from other clubs and the head of Spanish soccer. Doyen’s Lucas is currently advising Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol in his acquisition of a stake in seven-time European champion AC Milan.

Doyen Sports is a subsidiary of Doyen Group, a London-based company that invests in markets including commodities and real estate and has assets in countries including Turkey and Libya.

Doyen is also the owner of Rixos Hotels, which sponsors Chelsea, the Premier League club owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich. Doyen has declined to reveal the identity of its investors.

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