The world football body, FIFA, has reportedly launched a probe into whether English Premier League club Arsenal breached rules governing fair play and conflict of interest - allegations serious enough to expose the club to possible expulsion from the UEFA Champions League. According to BBC Newsnight, a police probe in Belgium has concluded Arsenal made secret payments of £1 million to the Beveren football club.
"A company with no name wanted to invest a million pounds in the club. We thought it rather bizarre," Christian du Four, the Investigating Magistrate in the Flemish town of Dendermonde, told Newsnight. At the same time the team threw out most of its Belgian players and replaced them with unknowns from an academy in Ivory Coast. Belgian police suspected the fog of secrecy was hiding criminal involvement. Instead after an investigation they have told Newsnight that they found Arsenal's secret hand behind the money.
Arsenal has a public deal with Beveren to play friendly matches and loan players but repeatedly denied putting money into the club. Arsenal now admits it did loan money, indirectly, to Beveren. "Arsenal confirms that it has never owned, directly or indirectly, any shares in Beveren or had any power whatsoever to influence its management or administration. It did in 2001 provide funds of 1,570,703 euros by way of loan to a member of the consortium to assist in stabilising the finances of Beveren," an Arsenal spokesman said.
According to Newsnight, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was given his break in management by Jean Marc Guillou, manager of Cannes in the early '80s with Wenger his assistant. Guillou and Wenger bought players cheap from Africa. Their first success was Youssouf Fofana bought from Ivory Coast. By the 1990s Wenger was manager of Monaco. His old friend Guillou came to him with an idea to turn Ivory Coast into a football factory. Monaco put money into an Academy in the Ivorian capital run in cooperation with the local team Africa's top side ASEC of Abidjan.
The academy recruited 12-year-olds and trained them up. Chelsea's new recruit Salomon Kalou, Arsenal's Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue and half the Ivory Coast World Cup squad are graduates of that Academy. But after Wenger left Monaco the club stopped funding the academy and Guillou needed more funds to keep it going until the youngster were old enough to sell. Newsnight has obtained a document signed by Guillou which lists 11 investors including himself.
According to the document they expected a 300% profit on their investment which would be made by selling the academy players on to Europe. ASECs boss Roger Ouegnin told BBC Newsnight: "They are not investors they are usurers." Also listed is Wenger who according to the document expected to make nearly £100,000 on a £30,000 investment. The payouts are still frozen subject to a series of legal cases in Belgium and France but BBC Newsnight understands that Wenger now says there was a misunderstanding and his payment was a donation not an investment.
The first four players including Toure were sold directly from the Academy but it was difficult to get work permits for Ivorian players to compete in the top European leagues unless like Toure they already had enough international appearances to qualify. Guillou hit on the idea of buying up a Belgian first division club cheap since the Belgian FA had relatively weak regulations. Once playing in a European League they would come to the attention of bigger clubs.
Guilou did not have access to the amount of money required to take over a Belgium club but he knew a man who did. Reading from his investigation, Mr Du Four said: "Jean Marc Guillou who is the manager of Beveren has very close contacts with Arsene Wenger the coach of Arsenal and that is why they went ahead with the contract." He then highlighted one contract signed by Arsenal Vice-Chairman David Dein. The contract shows Dein agreeing to advance 12 million Belgian francs on behalf of Arsenal Football Club in an interest free loan to an associate of his called Raoul de Waele. The loan was to establish a company called Goal which would take over control of Beveren football club. The loan and other money advanced by Arsenal would be repaid out of Goal's share of transfer profits. Du Four says that in all Arsenal put in £1 million.
An unidentified director of Beveren told Newsnight that the club agreed to give most of the profits from the sales of Ivorian players to Goal and Guillou. In the first year the split would be 60% for Goal, 30% for Guillou and just 10% for Beveren but in the following years the club would get 30% and Goal would get 40%. The club sold players all over Europe including to France, Ukraine and Greece and of course Eboue to Arsenal in January 2005 just after he had married his Belgian girlfriend and acquired European citizenship.
Beveren is reportedly again penniless and despite the last-ditch win has been threatened with relegation over its financial problems. "Whatever happened to the millions in transfer fees very little of it seems to have ended up at the club," Newsnight claimed. "The Ivorian stars Toure and Eboue are happy and will be facing Argentina in the World Cup in just over a week but back in Abidjan there is unhappiness that little of the money generated by football has made it back to the Ivory Coast. Roger Ouegnin at ASECS is still waiting for the £1m that he say Beveren owe them. He and Guillou are counterclaiming against each other. Ouegnin also claims Arsenal have not paid him £500,000 which he says they owe for Kolo Toure even though he says it is just a 'drop in the ocean' for them when Toure is worth £10 million plus."
FIFA president Seth Blatter is now seeking to ensure such practices are not possible in future. "[At] Beveren there are 11 players from Africa in the same team; in Dinamo Moscow the last season there were 10 players from Brazil or Portugal," he said. "These are deviations in football."
See also: Arsenal options 2 first-year Thai academy students (25 May)