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Agents and cash grabs: former Fiorentina brass implicated in alleged illegal player sale scheme

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The Della Valles and Corvino left the club one final gift before pushing off: an attempt to illegally strip the club of its best players.

Award Football Leader 2018 Photo by Paolo Manzo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Seeing Fiorentina in the New York Times is fairly exciting for an American. When the story is about a scheme to illegally transfer players so that the club and an agent could make a bunch of extra money, though, it’s a bit less exciting, especially when you realize that the deal was designed to bilk current owner Rocco Commisso out of several of the team’s best performers.

Again, click that link above and read through it, as author Tariq Panja seems to have done a fantastic job for the paper of record. The tl;dr version is that former Viola sporting director Pantaleo Corvino negotiated a deal with superagent Fali Ramadani to sell five of the best players in the side for unspecified amounts to unspecified clubs, with financial incentives for both sides if the deals got done. Furthermore, the deal was signed right before the Della Valle brothers sold Fiorentina to Commisso.

Besides being a naked attempt to run out of the room with some extra cash from player sales before turning the organization over to a new owner, such a deal is blatantly illegal under FIFA rules, which prevent non-club personnel from making decisions on club business, particularly in the transfer window. While it’s hardly a surprise that there’s skulduggery afoot in the mercato, this is the sort of incompetent corruption that makes fans throw up their hands in disgust and abandon modern football altogether.

Corvino has defended himself by saying that the deals were made so close to the sale date that he didn’t know Fiorentina would be changing hands. Diego Della Valle has similarly denied any knowledge of the affair. Former Viola president Mario Cognini has claimed that all deals conducted under his watch were legal and solely made for the good of the club. Fiorentina has issued a statement indicating that all parties who had any responsibility for the deal have been replaced, but declined to offer more detail.

This sounds like it was anything but regular. FIFPro (the players’ union) head lawyer Roy Vermeer said, “It’s hard to understand the reason why any club would agree to this.” University of Florence sociologist and transfer market scholar Pippo Russo said, “For sure there was a strange relationship between Fiorentina and Ramadani.”

It’s awfully hard to see this as anything but the previous management trying to make a quick buck at the club’s expense. Rocco was jubilant at how quickly the deal got done, especially since it was for a surprisingly cheap estimate of €160 million. Part of that discount was likely due to the club’s previous brain trust working to strip the club of assets and pocket the profits before the sale went through. This reading of events also paints the firing and subsequent fury of Corvino in a very different light, making him look like a man who didn’t get the cash he wanted rather than an aggrieved expert whose work has been taken away from him. Per this interpretation, the truth probably combines aspects of both.

We don’t know which players were part of the agreement, but it’s not too hard to make a few guesses; Nikola Milenković and Tòfol Montiel are Ramadani clients, while Dušan Vlahović was until fairly recently (he’s now repped by International Sports Office, a new company based in Belgrade). Given Ramadani’s reach, any number of other players could be involved as well, especially any who left for below market value.

That Fali Ramadani is the man involved isn’t a huge surprise, given the allegations of fraud, tax evasion, and manipulation of the market that he currently faces in Spain, as well as reports of his involvement of illegal practices with clubs in Belgium, Cyprus, and Serbia. His close relationship with Corvino, which brought Balkan prospects like Stevan Jovetić, Matija Nastasić, Adem Ljajić, Ante Rebić, Marko Bakić, and Haris Serferović to the club along with more established players like Marcos Alonso and Nikola Kalinić, has provoked plenty of discussion on this site and elsewhere.

Realistically, this whole thing isn’t surprising. Only the most naive could possibly discount the amount of backroom wheeling and dealing that springs up around anything profitable, and soccer is hideously profitable: UEFA cleared €3.86 billion in the 2018-2019 season, and that doesn’t take into account all money moving between clubs, agents, and sponsors. As much as we’d like to believe that Fiorentina is better than that, believing so is a delusion nearly as criminal as what Corvino and Ramadani are reported to have done.