Ronaldo’s First Club Vows to Get Higher Returns in Player Market

  • Sporting Lisbon president says clubs will have to pay more
  • Club sold two players for combined 80 million euros this year

The Portuguese club that discovered soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo said the days of letting star athletes leave on the cheap are over.

Ronaldo, the three-time world player of the year, was sold by Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United as a teenager in 2003 for 15 million euros ($16.5 million). He joined Real Madrid in 2009 for six times that amount. Sporting Lisbon President Bruno de Carvalho said his team didn’t get the value it should have for Ronaldo or other stars from its academy, including Nani, who also joined Manchester United and played on Portugal’s European Championship winning team this year.

This off-season, Sporting agreed to sell midfielder Joao Mario to Inter Milan and striker Islam Slimani to English Premier League champion Leicester for a combined 80 million euros. Those are the sort of prices the club should expect to get for its best talent, de Carvalho said in an interview in London last week.

Clubs will now have “to pay the real value of my players,” de Carvalho said. “The sale of Joao Mario to Inter was more money for Sporting than Nani and Cristiano put together. You are speaking about two amazing players that are not the same money as Joao Mario.”

Sporting is one of Portugal’s three most successful clubs. With television and sponsorship revenues in the country a fraction of those earned by European soccer’s richest teams, Portuguese clubs’ financial success is often driven by their ability to deal in the $5 billion player-trading market. Sporting announced a loss of 31.9 million euros for the fiscal year that ended before the sales of Slimani and Mario. The transfers will allow the team to be profitable this year.

Third-Party Investors

The amount the club actually banked for Slimani and Mario is only 54 million euros, according to the club’s accounts, published on Tuesday. That’s because a proportion of the fees went to so-called third-party investors, financial companies that had bought a percentage of the players’ future transfer value from Sporting. The practice, common in European and South American soccer, was banned by global governing body FIFA in 2015.

Opponents of the ban say clubs reliant on investors would face financial difficulty, citing challenges for soccer clubs to raise funds from banks. Sporting, which trails Portuguese league leader Benfica by three points after seven rounds, is reducing its payroll, focusing on academy talent and looking to get better prices for the players it sells, De Carvalho said.

Sporting is in a protracted legal battle with Malta-based investment fund Doyen Sports Investments, alleging the group forced through a transfer of a player against the club’s wishes. The team is appealing the case in Swiss courts after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favor of the fund last year.

Most of the biggest soccer funds are based in tax havens, allowing investors to shield their identity.

"You don’t know where it is coming from, who are the people, is it good money or bad?" de Cavalho said.

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