Great player appears, club happy. Club prefer money: there are plenty of good players. Player doesn’t want to leave: he’s young and besides he’s done more than most to win the title the club will probably win in a few months. Other club unappealing, also. The impertinence of talking meat. Club sigh, decide to wait. Player: Jonathan Calleri; Club: Boca Juniors; Other Club: Brighton Hove & Albion. Time: August 2015.
Roll around January 2016 and Boca really want that money. Brighton’s paltry £5m wasn’t going to cut it anyway (not even, later, $10m for 85% of his rights). Now Calleri’s a champion, even outshining Tevez on his oh so fabled patch. Inter Milan are interested now but aren’t willing to cough up $12m in cash for, in their view, an unproven player. Maybe he could come on loan and we’ll see? Cash, we said.
Enter the Investors: we’ll put up the cash and loan him to you, Inter. Boca smile. The Investors have their own little club, Deportivo Maldonado, in the second division in Uruguay. Plus, taxes in Uruguay are low-low. Boca grin. Inter squirm: third-party ownership is a nasty little business. You never know just how FIFA are going to react.
Although these kinds of deals have been done for years, in 2014, following up on an initial complaint from 2012 by the Argentine tax service, the AFIP, they fined a number of Argentine clubs – including Rosario Central, Racing and Independiente – and suspended a different Uruguayan ghost club, the unfortunately-named Sud América, from all transfer dealings for similar practices to the one proposed by the Investors. Yet only two weeks later, once the seven people who cared had forgotten, the sanctions were lifted. In 2015, however, they suspended a similarly small Belgian team, Seraing United, along with a real club in FC Twente. (Just this morning Real and Atlético Madrid were handed two-year transfer bans, but for signing minors, not for TPO). Boca’s face assumes the perplexed expression of one who is staring at their very own pie but their thumbs are numb and despite the room being full of people no-one will cut them a slice.
Bologna don’t care much about FIFA and would be more than happy to take Calleri on loan. Calleri grunts. Someone checks out their hair in the back of a spoon. The Investors tell Inter Moratti would have been all over this! Besides, they’ve done this before: former Estudiantes keeper Gerónimo Rulli is happily playing away with Real Sociedad. It’s win-win: Inter get their man, Boca get their cash, the Argentine tax man gets red faced, and we’ll probably get a little return on our investment down this rose-lined road of bridge transfers. Drop your face in the pie.
According to La Nación, the men who control the company behind Maldonado are Malcolm Caine and Graham Shear, who for years served as Kia Joorabchian’s legal representative and engineered Tevez’s move from Boca to Corinthians via MSI, with all the trouble that ended up causing in Carlitos’ career. (Ariel Senosiain makes a link with Stellar Sports, owned by Jonathan Barnett, Gareth Bale’s agent; and it’s true they do own a horse, named Curbyourenthusiasm, together). The murk thickens: you didn’t need to be the world’s most acute scout to notice talent in Boca’s star number 9, but Calleri was brought to the Investors’ attention by Gustavo Arribas, who until December 9th was an advisor to Deportivo Maldonado and, according to Senosiain, was part of a group that signed players for the Israeli super agent Pini Zahavi. On December 10th Mauricio Macri became the president of Argentina, after a narrow two point win in a presidential run-off election. Arribas was Macri’s choice to be head of the new Federal Intelligence Agency, set up to replace the old intelligence service whose counterintuitive web of counter espionage led to the clusterfuck that saw Alberto Nisman pop a bullet in his temple 360 days ago. Macri was the president of Boca Juniors between 1995 and 2008, and is an important backer of current Boca president and bingo empresario, Daniel Angelici. The tax authorities now say that they have no interest in pursuing possible tax evasion by the president’s team engineered by the head of the intelligence service. Quite.
It really got our monocle flying because putting an end to precisely this type of corruption was one of the main (only?) promises in the campaign of Macri’s cheerfully choreographed, balloon-festooned, Cambiemos (“Lets Change”), a name and a movement that seems almost impossible to write without an exclamation mark. A serious government was required if Argentina were to become a normal country, a real one, where capital flows like cake and everybody wins. (The prosperous middle classes are generally convinced they were unfairly abandoned at birth in a shadowy underworld, envying Oedipus his shepherd). If any good was to come from this presidency, it was going to be some kind of systemic administrative reform. The Kirchners spent so much time fighting, in our opinion, the good fight, taking on many of the most powerful interests in the country, and abroad, and then putting out fires, that for all the good done only negligible impact was made in the boring but fundamental work of shoring up an institutionally and administratively fraught state. And then they botched an eminently winnable election. After all, the thousands of people who went to listen to the outgoing president’s speech the day before Macri assumed power showed he did not have much of a mandate.
And yet, within a month, the new government has declared several false emergencies in order to justify ruling by decree, since they do not have a majority in congress. Bypassing the proper channels, friendly Supreme Court justices have been handpicked; the issuing of all official statistics has been suspended until further notice; the currency has effectively been devalued by 40% in order for the oligarchs with silos full of grain can get a more higher dollar, as well as export restrictions being lifted, which means the price of food goes up since it’s effectively in a foreign currency. Those who got Macri’s party into power are being repaid in kind, and at a speed that utterly undermines any credibility in the institutions the flaky, media-led opposition claimed would be the backbone of their normal administration. For Macri is not just a charismatic businessman with strong ties to the Clarín media monopoly, he is Clarín’s candidate – hence the most grievous of all the anti-democratic decisions in the last month, the dismantling, by decree, again, of the Media Law, which could have served as a model for most countries.
Among many other elements, part of the Ley de Medios the Clarin monopoly could not hold licenses in all their current areas of interests: TV, radio, newspapers, internet, paper, etc. Despite having approved by the Supreme Court, a judge issued a holding order several years ago delaying the article of the law that required the sale of assets. Time was bought; no longer content to influence government, exchanging amicable headlines for more media licenses, Clarín took it. The independent media watchdog has been abolished and subsumed into a new Ministry for Communications with a man at the helm so Clarín-friendly one fears one of these days he might actually turn into a silhouette with a little trumpet in his hand.
Elsewhere, on Monday Uki Goñi wrote a piece in the Guardian detailing a couple of the new government’s dictatorial faux pas from a few weeks ago (in fairness, he was probably on holidays). He doesn’t even mention the derogation of the media law in the body of his article or the fifteen thousand people fired from their jobs, hundreds of whom were shot at with rubber bullets during protests in La Plata last week; nor the suspension of pay talks with the teachers, etc. Indeed, he actually claims that “On the economic front […] Macri seems set for smoother sailing”. This is because he has a “sharp team of economists at the helm.” This explains why all those dismissals were not mentioned: just a few months ago the debate was about pay rises; now the idea that you’re lucky to have a job is being put about. Rachet up unemployment a few figures and wages will come down. Those economists sure are ‘sharp’, Uki.
Yet it’s not just economists. The new government has been stocked with CEOs – real business people to cut the “fat”, in the words of the new finance minister, from the administration. Argentina is open for business, with a capital O (the joy that informs this piece is chilling). Yet conflicts of interest abound. The Energy Minister calling for an end to subsidies has just left Shell after 37 years and must now sit down with his former(?) employers to negotiate; a key appointment to the Cabinet Office until recently was the head of the Pegasus Group, which controls chains of pharmacies and supermarkets among other interests; the man negotiating with the vulture funds who bought up debt from the 7% of bond holders who didn’t accept Argentina’s default restructuring in 200 has a history with JP Morgan and Deutsche bank; the Minister for Production already organised tech-related tax breaks for former employers Clarín and HSBC while serving under Macri in the City of Buenos Aires, not to mention having vested interests in companies whose potentially incriminating documents were incinerated in a fire that saw twelve firemen die; while the heads of the money-laundering agency have previously defended some of the companies – again including HSBC – who have ongoing cases with the money-laundering agency. The list goes on and on. Experience, of course, is a damn fine asset for any job; yet the state is supposed to look after the interests of the People. With these appointments, that looks next to impossible, to the point that it doesn’t even seem to be a concern. Nevertheless, the Wall St. Journal’s Taos Turner is, like Uki Goñi, delighted with the new regime: Macri’s uttering soundbites at press conferences already means this government is far more transparent.
Speaking of soundbites, on Monday morning pegamequemegusta, early-riser always, was anxiously awaiting Victor Hugo Morales’ radio program to start, eager for his analysis of the weekend’s events. When we turned it on, he was saying goodbye: he had just been fired. Even many non-Spanish speakers know Victor Hugo as the commentator for Maradona’s Goal of the Century. Long before the Kirchners were in power, he was a fierce critic of the Clarín media monopoly, as well as its judicial wing (the price of which is two thirds of his salary embargoed after same found against him in ¡a defamation suit! filed by Clarín’s Murdoch/O’Brien/William Martin Murphy/Mr Burns, Héctor Magnetto). He was fired once before as the radio station he worked for, Continental, was part owner of the very interests, TyC’s, he was attacking, until mass protests, and sponsor pressure, brought him back. Back then his was technically only a sports show (such a neat distinction is impossible, especially here). Since the Kirchner’s raising of the Clarín Question, however, he became a vocal supporter of the attempt to forge, at the very least, a playable field (not one with a great big monolith planked in the centre stretching skyward to poke God himself in the eye). This time, however, with Macri/Clarín in power, the radio’s own sponsor income was threatened. Bouncers were put on the doors of the station to stop him getting in. However, he had come in early to prepare the show we were so eager to hear. A confused while later, minutes before nine, when it was clear he would not be allowed on the air, he burst into Paulino Rodríguez’ program:
My dear Victor Hugo…
Sorry for the interruption..
No problem, how are you?
I’m getting fired from the ra…
Cue jingle. Ads. Music.
Now Paulino’s program, while very serious indeed, is, like all the others on Continental, very anti-K (VH’s show was an anomaly, leading to legendarily tetchy handovers between shows). No journalist (or, now, hardly any), however, can accept such a personal and malicious attack on a fellow professional, so after the initial surprise Paulino let Victor Hugo back on. He spoke for about ten minutes, until just after his own show would have started so that he could say goodbye to stunned listeners like yours truly. He expressed sympathy for the very directors of the radio who were firing him (again): with a troika of executive, legal and media powers united, what choice did they have?
Later that day it emerged Victor Hugo had not been the only victim of the purge: Matías Canillán, one of the foremost journalists and football commentators on Continental, had also been given the boot. Just as Macri has called to an end for political programming on state tv, preferring bland cultural ones instead, the head of programming at Continental has suddenly decided all this talk of FIFA and AFA on the radio is a drag – girls just want to have fun. For in football, too, the changes shall be rung. Macri repeatedly stated over the years that if elected he would immediately abolish Fútbol para todos, the free-to-air broadcasting of Argentine football that in 2009 took the rights from Clarín-controlled TyC, indicted in FIFA-gate last year. It has been spared so far (maybe because we’re being gypped elsewhere) and looks set to continue, but with much heavier involvement of sponsors – a boon for those who consider public service announcements propaganda but insurance ads chicken soup for the soul.
Just as the swiftness and brazenness of Clarín’s revolution, the slowness of reform at the AFA in the year and a half since don Julio Grondona died has been surprising. No power vacuum, no real upheaval; it’s as if the clubs presidents feared he might come back. When elections were eventually held, hanging chad-type irregularities with ballot papers meant no winner could be named. Both of the main candidates are reprehensible puppets, so we’ll spare you the details. The skinny is that as both candidates square off, the real sticking point in negotiations (after all, a unity candidate could be proposed) is legalised online gambling – not whether, but how –, which is unregulated as yet in Argentina. Under the last government, Grondona pushed successfully for a rather tame pools game to be introduced. The new version – balloons ‘n’ all, no doubt – promises to swamp the winner’s hypoteneuse in cash. If it’s to succeed, of course, us workers will have to have a few pesos to spare. Macri’s CEOs will have to spare us that much.
Pegamequemegusta apologises for any queasiness this post may provoke. Yet save your real sympathy for 22-year-old Jonathan Calleri, who has been triangulated into a footballing netherworld. After further speculation about him being shipped off to Brazil came to nout, for now, he was officially released by Boca into the loving arms of Deportivo Maldonado for $9.5 m rising to $12m. Olé report: Asked by a fan on his last day of training with Boca where he was headed, he replied: “I wish I knew.”