Since FC Gold Pride ceased operations in November, the worldwide hunt has been on to acquire Marta. On Tuesday, WPS expansion team Western New York Flash announced it had signed the five-time FIFA World Player of the Year and most entertaining magician to ever grace women’s soccer. “Signed” is one way to put it.
Currently Marta is playing with Santos FC in Brazil on what is being called a loan deal. The only problem with that is that there was never a loan deal agreed upon.
Santos, Marta and her agent, Fabiano Farah, are said to have blatantly ignored the existing contract with FC Gold Pride by signing a short-term deal with Santos, according to former FC Gold Pride General Manager Ilisa Kessler. That violates FIFA regulations and the terms of Marta’s contract with FC Gold Pride.
Although FC Gold Pride ceased operations, the club never filed for bankruptcy. Marta’s contract – originally a three year deal worth about $500,000 annually – was inherited by FC Gold Pride from the Los Angeles Sol after the Sol folded last January. That is a guaranteed contract with one year remaining.
So, FC Gold Pride held Marta’s rights until Tuesday, when her contract was transferred over to the Flash.
FC Gold Pride never agreed to a loan deal with Santos because the Pride insisted to be compensated by Santos for any such move. The Brazilian club would not pay FC Gold Pride, but Marta signed with Santos anyway, clearly violating the terms of her contract at the time (which is now in the hands of the Flash).
FC Gold Pride still would have been responsible for paying Marta in 2011 had it not found a team to which her contract could be transferred. So for Marta to illegally go on loan is particularly concerning for the Pride. What if she got hurt?
“I think it is important that all players uphold their contract,” Kessler said. “If a player just decides that they are going to loan themselves out without the club that holds their contract then I think the whole fabric of what we are doing here is broken.”
Kessler immediately made the U.S.S.F. aware of the situation and it is up to the federation to take action. Frankly, they should, but so too should FIFA.
Imagine Lionel Messi deciding to sign a short contract with a hometown Argentine club without Barcelona’s consent. The move would never even happen. Barcelona and FIFA would be under intense media scrutiny and FIFA would surely never allow the move to happen. Look no farther than the Los Angeles Galaxy’s refusal to loan David Beckham to Tottenham this winter. Beckham is under contract with the Galaxy, which holds the power to deny any move (as it did).
U.S. Soccer, which oversees the transferring of all professional contracts in the country, and FIFA are now faced with a similar situation regarding Marta. The best player in the world just breached her contract with a United States professional club.
Should evidence surface that Santos, the Brazilian federation and Farah knowingly violated the terms of Marta’s contract with FC Gold Pride by signing with Santos, consequences should follow. As an agent who represents high profile players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Farah knows the proper procedures to transfer players. Santos and the CFB often deal with transfers on the men’s side, so they too know. Farah did not immediately respond to an e-mail regarding the situation.
As Kessler said, this could set a precedent that strips clubs of their power – a deserved legal power – to hold players to their contract. There is no women’s player more high profile than Marta and an example must be made of the situation. Maybe there is a loophole in Marta’s still somewhat secretive contract, but it looks like an obvious violation.
Articles nine and 10 in the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players clearly state that an International Transfer Certificate is required for players to be transferred or loaned. Until that is done, the player cannot register with the new association. A copy of the ITC must be filed with FIFA. Kessler said she never signed an ITC.
So where exactly is FIFA throughout this mess? The world’s best women’s soccer player, her agent and her club – whether knowingly or harmlessly – just publicly sidestepped FIFA regulations and nobody did a thing about it. Marta was just in Zurich to pick up her fifth-straight Ballon d’Or, but FIFA did not bother to inquire there. It is as if the world football governing body did not know. Or maybe it just did not care.
It did not help that both U.S. and international media were led to believe Marta was on the open market and could sign with whichever club she desired. That is on journalists to check facts, although one would be hard pressed to find a single source over the past few months to actually acknowledge that Marta is not a free agent. That she was still under contract was a well-kept secret.
WPS brass stated that the league could survive without Marta. In reality, the league had very little worry about the situation knowing that her contract had not expired. At worst, FC Gold Pride would have been responsible for Marta’s salary and, if the club could not transfer her contract, she would not have been able to play for any other club in 2011.
The USSF needs to bring this to the attention of FIFA, which must put its foot down. Santos should be liable for paying FC Gold Pride (and now potentially even Western New York Flash) for Marta’s services and there should be consequences for Farah if he knowingly went against the terms of FC Gold Pride’s contract with Marta (and it is natural to assume he was aware of this).
Letting this incident slide under the radar would save FIFA some embarrassment, but it would set one ugly precedent. In the current state of women’s soccer, there are no player situations of greater magnitude than the ones involving Marta. But regardless, what if this happened on the men’s side? It would be on large scale embarrassment for all the guilty parties. That includes FIFA, which would surely divvy out consequences. That this happened with a smaller contract involving a women’s player should not change anything.