Starting this coming Wednesday and running through most of the next month, Chile (otherwise known as El Mejor Pais del Mundo) will be hosting the 2015 Copa America. This reality gives us an electric jolt from the soles of our feet to the tips of our textured side-part here at Hairspray. Not only is it being hosted by our motherland, but the Chilean team is in with an excellent shout to win it all.
Further, it is transfer season, and Liverpool football club need to sign some players. Will Liverpool sign any of the talents competing in this tournament?
Scouting South America can be a tricky thing for European giants, and has proven to be barren ground for Liverpool during the modern era. A big reason for this is regulatory, and not just down to
Ian Ayre's incompetence Liverpool, though. South American footballers, having been born in South America, rarely are carriers of EU passports and thus do not qualify for the free movement of workers that European Union citizens and residents enjoy. These players must circumnavigate European (and then country-specific) immigration regulations in order to receive a work permit that allows them to register with an English club.
Where some countries, like Portugal and Brazil, have bilateral agreements in place that allow for freer movement between two nations, the UK has no such agreement with any South American country. Therefore, if Liverpool were looking to sign an Argentinian prospect that player would have to have
...play(ed) for his country in at least 75% of its competitive A team matches of which he was available for selection, during the two years preceding the date of the application,
...country must be at or above 70th place in the official FIFA world rankings when averaged over the two years preceding the date of the application.
The players who typically meet these two criteria are known commodities that have already made the move over to a European club. This would seem to moot any move for an upper echelon prospect straight from the Primera A, right? Well, sort of.
See, if said prospect is deemed to be
of the highest caliber
...able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in the UK
Then that player may be given a work permit, even if he does not meet the typical requirements.
In other words, had Liverpool moved for a 17 year old Neymar, they would probably not have been able to have gotten him a work permit. Had they tried to move for a 19 year old Neymar, however, after he had lit the Brazilian league on fire for a season, they most likely would have had that work permit application approved. Savvy?
So who, if anyone, should Liverpool be looking to sign from this tournament? The easier answer will typically be: any prospect that has already emigrated to a European country.
The two main corridors here are Argentina-Italy, and Portugal-Brazil. Due to the economically driven Italian emigration to Argentina in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the close ties left over from Portuguese colonialism, these countries provide lax immigration/emigration regulatory structures for each other's peoples. It is the main reason you see so many Argentinians in Serie A and so many Brazilians in the Primeira Liga.
These sorts of situations represent the most simple deals for Liverpool to exploit: guys who have already made that jump, are registered with UEFA, and are either close an EU passport, or to being considered as able to contribute significantly to the development of top level football in the UK.
But what about Chelsea's recent rumored move for Brazilian prospect Nathan? Last we checked, Chelsea are an English team, and Nathan meets none of the requirements for a UK work permit, not even that special talent loophole... Enter Vitesse Arnhem and the "co-operation agreement" in place between the two clubs.
Aside from all of the fascinating corruption potential in this relationship between two European clubs owned by two Russian oligarchs, Chelsea enjoys a nice place to stash all of the prospects they own that are beyond the reserve team level, but not quite at Chelsea first team level. This, of course, includes any South American prospects that need to establish residency in the EU for a couple of a years before applying for either an EU passport, or a UK work permit.
Without a "co-operation agreement" in place with another club in a country with more lax immigration law, Liverpool would need to sign a player and find a loan deal for that player in Portugal, or Italy, or Holland, or etc. You may be thinking that this sounds an awful lot like two deals in one, which would be right, and would also mean twice the work.
Would Liverpool be more willing to execute a deal this complicated over, say, scouting only players who already are established in the Serie A or Primeira Liga? You'd have to be a part of the much maligned transfer committee to answer that question. From Hairspray's perspective, at least, the answer there would be only for a very, very special player.
The other hurdle to signing a South American prospect straight from the rhythmical continent is one that Liverpool fans will be quite familiar with: third-party ownership.
Third-party ownership structures have allowed outside investors to buy portions of a player's future transfer fee or even his actual playing registration. If this sounds like murky ground that is because it is. These deals are often cut between agents, businessmen, individuals, or conglomerates of all three and a director of a football club. There is little regulation to be found country to country that restricts these sorts of agreements, and even less law enforcement or judicial bandwidth to deal with them in case of any funny business.
So how many potential targets does this impact? According to FIFA, 90% of players in the Brazilian league alone are owned by some combination of club and outside investor. When Santos re-signed Neymar to keep him in Brazil for one more season, for example, they were only able to do so with the help of funds secured from outside investors. Once the deal with Barcelona was cut, 40-50% of the fee was shelled out to those investors. Depending on who you talk to, the number of investors involved in the deal was anywhere between one and two dozen entities - including Santos and Neymar's old man.
Apropos of nothing in particular, this may be a great opportunity to launder some money, in case you are an international drug dealer. Or just a paid employee of the International Federation of Football Association.
Back to the UK and Liverpool, the playing registration of a footballer has to be owned by the club he plays for. If Liverpool want to sign the next Neymar, they not only have to identify that player and beat off competition from other clubs for that player's signature, but they most likely will have to deal with a club trying to assuage multiple outside investors that have an interest in that prospect, be it implicit or explicit, legal or illegal. But no worries, guys, that bastion of regulatory justice FIFA is on the case!
So, then - are there any special prospects in this iteration of the Copa America that are worth Liverpool's wading into this complex muck of transfer negotiations? Why, yes, of course there are! Because Chile es el mejor pais del mundo. But didn't we already go over this?
Stay tuned for the second instalment to find out which prospects take hold of Hairspray's imagination like a buttercream gentle hold mold with matte finish takes hold of our mousey brown croppa glory.
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