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A clean-up of soccer’s murky transfer system and an end to the “hoarding” that makes it possible for a top club to have dozens of players out on loan are among the items on Gianni Infantino’s to-do list, the FIFA president told Reuters in an interview.
The man entrusted with the task of cleaning up football’s world governing body after a slew of corruption scandals suggested that publishing payments to agents could be one way of creating more transparency.
“Whether it’s true or not, the perception often is that there is something strange happening with these transfers,” the 46-year-old Swiss-Italian lawyer said.
“It is important if you move a few billion dollars in one or two months, you must make sure that every happens in a clean way.”
The transfer market moves billions of dollars every year although it is often unclear how this is split between clubs, players, clubs and the agents who negotiate on their behalf.
FIFA is responsible for regulating transfers between clubs in different countries under rules based on a 2001 agreement with the European Commission. “After 15 years it is time to seriously revise it and bring it a little more transparency and a little more clarity,” Infantino said.
The world players’ union FIFPro last year launched a complaint with the European Commission, alleging that the system infringes European competition law because only a small number of clubs from the biggest leagues can afford the astronomical fees for top players.
Meanwhile, Europe’s smaller leagues complain that big clubs cream off their players at a very young age, only to immediately send them on loan elsewhere. English side Chelsea currently have 37 players on loan to other clubs, according to their website.
“I believe it is not right but it is permitted,” said Infantino, who did not himself refer to the Premier League club.
“It doesn’t feel right, for a club to just hoard the best young players and then to park them left and right, it’s not good for the development of the player, it’s not good for the club itself.”
Capping squad sizes could alleviate the problem, he said. “I fully share that view, we have to work on squad size limits.”
While Infantino did not name names, examples are not hard to find. One English player, Benik Afobe, signed a professional contract with Arsenal in 2010, but was then loaned out to six different clubs over five years before being sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2015. He is now with Bournemouth.
Apart from Chelsea, other top teams with long lists of players on loan include Manchester City and Italian sides AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus and Atalanta.
On succeeding the disgraced Sepp Blatter as FIFA chief, Infantino inherited an organisation still reeling from the corruption scandal that saw dozens of international soccer officials indicted in the United States last year for racketeering, money-laundering and bribery.
The organisation has long had a reputation for indulging its officials with a five-star lifestyle, but Infantino said it had to be more low-key. “I think we need to show a FIFA which is more normal, more humble; we are normal people, we are football people.”
He has travelled on both budget airlines and private jets since being elected, but said the latter would happen again only in case of absolute necessity. “I flew on Easyjet … and I will fly whatever is more convenient.”
Infantino said he recognised the seriousness of the divide between rich and poor clubs, but was not unduly worried by speculation that the super-clubs could one day form their own breakaway league.
“We need to be creative and search for dialogue and I’m sure with dialogue we can find always solutions to help everyone in the right way.”
He played down the significance of his own much-criticised suggestion of expanding the World Cup to 48 teams from 32, saying it was not as radical as it seemed. It was simply a case of holding a round of playoff matches before the tournament proper, he said, and would create more excitement for fans, broadcasters and sponsors.
And he warned that FIFA would not hesitate to send teams home from the 2018 World Cup in Russia if their fans misbehaved in the same way as some did during Euro 2016 in France.
“Unfortunately hooliganism around matches and stadiums has not stopped,” he said.
“We take this very seriously. It is a concern, and we will certainly not hesitate to take measures, strict measures, including excluding teams from a competition if it turns out that teams need to be excluded.”