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Juan Figer


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Juan Figer

  1. 1. MONEY Secrets of Success The Uruguayan Juan Figer is one of the most powerful player brokers AGENTS: in global football – and one of the most elusive. BY HAUKE GOOS RAINER DAHMEN Backstage mastermind Figer: The money will be in the bank on Monday! 106 2/2006 spiegel special international edition
  2. 2. FIGER’S FRIENDS F. BIZERRA JR. / EFE / PICTURE ALLIANCE / DPA MICHAEL KUNKEL / HOCH ZWEI NEW PRESS / GETTY IMAGES FIRO RONALDINHO KAKÁ ROBERTO CARLOS ADRIANO FC Barcelona AC Milan Real Madrid Inter Milan Value*: Value: Value: Value: ¤70 million ¤30 million ¤6.5 million ¤35 million J uan Figer almost came to Leipzig last cludes Luis Figo (Inter Milan), Robinho Figer is a man of power and influence. December. The draw for the World and Julio Baptista (both Real Madrid), and Even players contracted to other agents Cup finals was being held at the city’s Alex (Fenerbahce), a quartet alone worth willingly heed his advice: Adriano, Inter Trade Fair complex. Pelé had already some ¤68 million. Milan’s superstar; Roberto Carlos from agreed to appear. Michel Platini, Franz Brazil is the world’s biggest soccer Real Madrid; Kaká from AC Milan; or Beckenbauer and the managers of the bazaar; almost every professional there Ronaldinho of Barcelona, currently the world’s top clubs were all scheduled to dreams of making it big in Europe. In most valuable player on the planet, have show. And the sport’s heavy hitters would 2005 alone, 878 Brazilian players signed all sought him out. be on hand, too. Word was that Figer for foreign clubs. Juan Figer has offices Reiner Calmund, the former commer- would join this all-star lineup before jet- in São Paulo, Madrid and Tokyo. If he cial manager of Bayer Leverkusen, got a ting off to Tokyo, to some undisclosed wanted, he could work around the clock. taste of Figer’s clout a few years ago tournament. Afterward he would head He helped sell Zé Roberto to Bayer Lever- while selling midfielder Ramon Hubner back to São Paulo. kusen and then to Bayern Munich. He set to Vasco da Gama, one of Rio de Janeiro’s The evening of the draw arrived, and up Kleberson with Manchester United and top four teams. Vasco paid the first in- football’s court and courtiers were assem- later with Besiktas of Istanbul. stallment and then defaulted on the rest. bled: FIFA head Joseph Blatter, UEFA Figer is a leading light in the interna- Leverkusen turned to FIFA for help. President Lennart Johansson and the tional game, but a luminary who prefers to World football’s governing body issued coaches of the 32 national teams. the customary warning to its Brazilian remain in the shadows. He is a master But Juan Figer was nowhere to be seen. subsidiary, the CBF: If Vasco failed to craftsman of his trade, and silence is his fa- The world’s most influential sports cough up, it would suffer the conse- vorite tool. agent didn’t grace this eastern German quences. Vasco’s president, also a vice- His image is rarely caught on film, and city with his presence. Nor did he fly on to president of CBF, simply tossed FIFA’s let- then it’s in underground parking lots or Tokyo. Something had come up, some- ter into the wastepaper basket. the passenger seats of cars: a short, stout thing that took precedence over Becken- Leverkusen could have forced FIFA’s man with bushy black eyebrows, his tie bauer, Pelé and the World Cup. An un- hand and demanded Vasco’s suspension. askew. The king of secrecy captured in a specified transfer. Or a million-dollar deal. But fearing negative publicity, the team’s candid, momentarily frozen in the flash- Some transaction. Somewhere in the main sponsor, aspirin-manufacturer light of a disrespectful photographer. world. That’s par for the course with this Bayer – which operates a major plant in He drives an armored Opel Omega, Uruguayan will-o’-the-wisp. He’s every- Brazil – got cold feet. So they decided to probably the only one in all of São Paulo. where and nowhere. write off the $1 million loss. The car has bulletproof windows, reinforced Juan Figer, the phantom. His career is a Then Figer got wind. He swung into ac- doors, an armored fuel tank and custom thirty-year mystery. He rarely gives inter- tion, convening a meeting at 11 o’clock tires. It’s the perfect disguise. What self-re- views and shies away from public appear- one Saturday morning. A few words were specting gangster would hold up an Opel? ances. He trades in player transfer rights exchanged, and Figer passed judgment: Juan Figer races through life at such a and purchase options, supplying the soc- Leverkusen’s money would be in their relentless pace that he sometimes seems to cer world with talent, mainly gifted Brazil- bank account the following Monday! be in several places at once. It’s almost as ians – and nails down lucrative advertising Figer receives managers and presi- if the endless globetrotting, the meetings, contracts for his stars. He advises man- dents in much the same fashion as Mar- the tortuous negotiations, the sparking agers and club presidents. His clientele in- lon Brando’s Don Corleone receives pe- and dousing of rumors, the business lunches, the intercontinental and red-eye titioners at the start of The Godfather: flights and catnaps during talks are just He listens, says little and is always will- * All player values are based on assessments by the web- one big attempt to escape. ing to assist. But what would have hap- site 107 2/2006 spiegel special international edition
  3. 3. pened had the Brazilian club not parted FIGER’S CLIENTS with its cash? “Don’t ask me,” says Calmund. “All I know is that I was in Figer’s São Paulo of- fice one morning recently, and Zé Rober- to, Julio Baptista and Pelé all dropped in. Even the president of Porto Alegre stopped by. Everybody comes to see him. And they sit down and wait their turn.” There seems to be no end to the prob- lems he’s required to solve. “I prefer my horses to players,” Figer has said. “They don’t sign contracts. And they don’t talk crap.” Juan Figer was born in Uruguay. He is ALFAQUI SL / ACTION PRESS 71, or 76, depending on where you look: On his tax returns, he lists his birthday as PACO SERINELLI / AFP IPA PHOTO / IMAGO October 4, 1934, and occasionally as Jan- uary 1, 1930. He started out selling shirts and hoped to make his fortune in the import-export trade. He has a head for figures, Calmund ROBINHO ALEX LUIS FIGO notes, and can effortlessly reel off all man- Real Madrid Fenerbahce Inter Milan ner of numbers and interest rates. He still Value: Value: Value: has a passion for chess; in his youth, he ¤25 million ¤9.9 million ¤13 million was the South American champion. In the early 1960s Figer was hired by Uruguayan First Division club Penarol as Japan and Korea. He chaperones the stars between sports and money, about the the head of youth development, and later became the club’s commercial manager. from their youth team days until the end leverage of sponsors, the contours of Penarol captured the league championship of their careers – all around the world. corruption. several times during his tenure. The club Football agents have much in common Having failed to incriminate Nike, the also won the Copa Libertadores, South with chess players: success depends on committee took aim at the cartolas – the America’s version of the Champions watching your adversary, recognizing his functionaries, financial wizards and League, and the FIFA World Club Cham- weaknesses and thinking ahead. It’s about wheeler-dealers behind the scenes. pionship. identifying simple solutions. And making Figer was called to the stand and grilled In 1968 Figer moved to São Paulo. In the crucial move at the right time. like a criminal. All of a sudden he, too, March of 1970 he promoted his first game: But in 2001, Figer was dragged out of was suspected of being part of the con- Flamengo of Rio de Janeiro versus Pe- soccer’s shadows and thrust into the lime- spiracy destroying the national game. narol, his former employer. Figer tried to light for the first time. The Senate, the Hours of his testimony were broadcast live entice the teams with shares of the gate. upper house of the Brazilian parliament, on television. The chess whiz had been But both were leery and demanded cash was demanding answers to a question that summoned to explain the rules of his up front. Figer took out a loan. Fortu- had been festering since 1998, when Brazil game, to describe each of his moves in nately for him, 100,000 fans poured into lost the World Cup Final to France. Why, detail. Figer seemed nervous. the Maracana Stadium. despite suffering a seizure on the morning As everybody in Brazil knew, Figer con- That same year he conducted his first of the game, had Ronaldo been selected to ducted much of his business via Uruguay, transfer, when the Uruguayan Pablo For- play against the host nation and eventual usually through the clubs Central Español lán of Penarol signed for São Paulo. Soon winners? Two years earlier Nike had and Rentistas. Uruguay did not levy afterward, he arranged three more Uru- signed a 10-year contract worth more than taxes on player transfers. This loophole guayans’ moves to Brazilian clubs. $160 million with the CBF: the biggest provided Figer with two ways of circum- Football is a business, and Figer will sponsorship deal ever for a national team. venting Brazilian tax inspectors. happily lock horns with anybody who As part of the package, Nike had secured Plan A: Figer tipped off Uruguayan thinks otherwise: with people who are Ronaldo’s services. The footwear brand clubs about budding Brazilian stars. The clueless about the incredible financial was suspected of having forced Ronaldo to teams could then buy out their contracts lace up his boots and take his place on possibilities offered by the sport, or with – either completely or in part – and then football’s greatest stage. loan the players back to their previous those who believe that profit is immoral – A parliamentary committee investigat- owners. When the time was right, the star- and are incapable of appreciating ed the allegations. Its members pored lets were sold to Europe for huge fees. the beauty of a perfectly-designed com- over bank accounts, tax returns and The Brazilian clubs served as the shop pensation package, or of a resolved trans- telephone records. It also called 125 wit- windows, while their Uruguayan partners fer complication that makes everyone nesses, including Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos raked in tax-free profits. happy. and former national team coach Mario Plan B: The Uruguayan clubs signed Thanks to his worldwide contacts, Juan Zagallo during its 59 sessions. Soon, the Brazilian players already on Figer’s books Figer has come to personify the global- ization of the people’s game. He’s a fixture committee had an even hotter topic on and then sold them to European teams on the German transfer scene and has re- its hands. The issue was no longer the for a large profit – at up to twice the orig- cently branched out to England as well. World Cup that got away: Brazilian foot- inal fee. This maneuver gained notoriety He shepherds young Brazilians into the ball itself was now on trial. The country’s as the triangulaçao uruguaia, the Uru- European leagues and the old guard into fans learned a lot about the relationship guayan triangle. 108 2/2006 spiegel special international edition
  4. 4. MONEY In December the Brazilian parliamen- tary committee presented its findings – a full 1,129 pages worth. The report de- scribed the Brazilian football federation as “a forum for crooks where disorgani- zation, anarchy, incompetence and hypo- crisy rule.” The lawmakers called on the police to launch 17 criminal investigations. The report concluded that Figer per- formed “transactions that border on ille- gality,” describing the transfers via Uruguay as “extremely suspect.” The par- liamentarians urged the public prosecu- N. HAUPT/WEREK/PICTURE ALLIANCE/DPA tor, financial authorities and Brazil’s cen- MARKUS ULMER / ACTION PRESS tral bank to look into Figer’s dealings. And there the matter ended. Because Figer has friends in high places. He is prac- COVERSPOT / IMAGO tically a son to João Havelange, Brazil’s long-serving past FIFA president, and on good terms with Ricardo Teixeira, presi- dent of the CBF. The extent of Figer’s influence became EDU JULIO BAPTISTA ZE ROBERTO apparent at the 2002 Champions League Valencia Real Madrid Bayern Munich Final in Glasgow, which Leverkusen lost Value: Value: Value: to Real Madrid. Before the game, a ban- ¤7 million ¤20 million ¤8.5 million quet was held for representatives of the tournament’s 32 participants, UEFA and the national football associations. Juan Figer was seated with the Lever- In reality, the triangle is a labyrinth by giving the Brazilian Rodrigo – who was kusen delegation at Reiner Calmund’s in- complex enough to confuse anyone. Even on loan at Portuguesa – a free transfer to vitation. the Brazilian parliamentary committee Flamengo. This in turn induced Flamengo At the beginning of the evening Sepp was flummoxed. Its members also ques- to release Zé Roberto to Leverkusen for Blatter, the powerful FIFA president, tioned Figer about his role in the transfer just over half the amount. stood up to say a few words. When he’d of Brazilian international Zé Roberto to It was the beginning of a beautiful rela- finished, he breezed past the tables with Real Madrid in 1997. Zé Roberto’s path tionship. Leverkusen’s Calmund and Figer the teams and the officials. And stopped was equally circuitous. quickly became friends, and the Brazil- to greet one person only. Juan Figer – First he was dispatched to Central Es- ians Paulo Rink and Robson Ponté soon with a warm embrace. Figer holds stakes pañol by Portuguesa São Paulo for a fee of found themselves new homes on the in teams and TV stations, plus a few race- $4.6 million. Then, on the very same day, he Rhine. They were joined by França and horses. His house in Campinas, an hour’s was sold on to Real Madrid for $9.98 million. Juan shortly afterward. drive from São Paulo, has two swimming Even at the time, Brazilian newspapers Rumors began to circulate in April of pools, and a floor area half the size of a speculated that Figer was not acting solely this year. It emerged that Leverkusen had football pitch. on behalf of Real Madrid and Zé Roberto. been paying Figer regularly between 1997 Juan Figer no longer scours Brazil’s It was insinuated that he actually controlled and 2003 – for services that nobody in the pitches in hopes of persuading young Central Español and used it as a front to club could trace, “notwithstanding a com- prospects to sell their souls for a pittance. avoid stepping into the spotlight himself. prehensive investigation.” In total, the Today, if a team has a promising youngster The Brazilian government lost out on club had transferred no less than $11.85 on its books, Figer proposes a deal that taxes on both Zé Roberto’s 15 percent million to Figer’s account. benefits all the parties: he buys a 50 per- signing fee and the $800,000 commission Most suspiciously, the Uruguayan had cent stake of the player’s future transfer pocketed by Figer. The Uruguayan found granted Calmund a low-interest ¤200,000 rights for $1-2 million. This allows the himself accused of tax evasion. loan at the end of 2002, via a letter-box perennially cash-strapped Brazilian clubs So nobody would have been more re- company in Panama. It appeared that Figer to bolster their coffers – and Figer to claim lieved than Figer when Uruguay imposed was using such favors to boost his business. half of any future profits. a small levy on transfers a few years ago. Figer soon realized that the soccer mar- As part of its investigation, the com- Five percent is better than no tax at all: it ket was like a perpetuum mobile, the mittee published a register of phone calls nips any hint of impropriety in the bud. popular desktop toy for business execu- made from Figer’s office. Thirty-nine When Zé Roberto found the going tives. Like the stainless steel balls that re- countries were listed for the previous five tough in Madrid, he headed back to peatedly ricochet off one another, players years, including Cameroon, Israel, Japan, Brazil, this time to Flamengo – where he bounce from club to club. Teams buy and Luxembourg, Norway, and the states of caught the attention of Bayer Leverkusen’s sell players all the time – because they the former Soviet Union. A total of 1,168 coaching staff. Zé Roberto was too ex- want to improve, because somebody is in- calls were made to Germany alone, 528 to pensive for the Germans but Figer had an jured, because a new star has emerged, Italy and 17 to the Dutch Antilles. or because a team is in dire straits. And elegant solution up his sleeve. He was ne- Six months ago Figer was asked to de- with every transfer, Figer cashes in. gotiating another transfer at the time be- scribe the players’ market of the future. Figer is the guy who sets the first ball in tween Real Madrid and Flamengo for the Noting that he was currently finalizing his motion. He’s also a beneficiary of every left-sided Brazilian midfielder Savio. So move into China, he said. “I expect the subsequent contact; each one earns him a he engineered the following deal: Real Chinese game to explode in two years.”™ cut. paid part of Zé Roberto’s $14 million fee 109 2/2006 spiegel special international edition