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A Canadian Abramovich ??


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Interesting story in the Guardian about a man with millions to spend on soccer, and he might be Canadian....

Is this man the new Abramovich or is he a front for the real thing?

Spending spree by Corinthians raises suspicions among Brazilian fans about source of investment

Alex Bellos

Friday December 10, 2004

The Guardian

The story sounds familiar. A mysterious foreign businessman in his 30s with no previous football experience takes control of one of the biggest clubs in the country. He immediately smashes the club transfer record and promises to make the team the best in the continent.

Yet this is not about England, Chelsea and Roman Abramovich but about Brazil, Corinthians and a British entrepreneur called Kia Joorabchian.

Last week South American football was in a state of shock with the announcement that the Argentina international Carlos Tévez was moving from Boca Juniors to Corinthians for $22m (£11.4m). Tévez, 20, was the leading scorer in this year's Olympics and is considered his country's most exciting young player.

It was by far the most a Brazilian club had ever paid for a player and it was also unprecedented that such a promising talent had moved within his own continent - let alone to a nation considered arch-rivals - rather than to Europe. The Brazilian league is broke and clubs' finances usually depend on selling players abroad.

"Brazilian football doesn't have the resources to maintain a player like Tévez," said Juca Kfouri, Brazil's top sports journalist, expressing the bewilderment and suspicion that the transfer has provoked.

The Tévez deal is, however, a remarkable coup for the London-based Joorabchian, whose firm Media Sport Investment has promised to plough another $35m (£18.2m) into the team. "Our plan is to build Corinthians into a team of galácticos ," he said. "Our goal is to do what Man United and Real Madrid have done. Everyone else who goes to Brazil goes there to trade players. They don't do anything constructive for Brazilian football." He has promised Corinthians three Brazilians of international standard and at least another foreign player for next season.

Yet in the four months since Joorabchian arrived in Brazil, his plans have met with scepticism. Questions have focused on the investors behind MSI and possible links with the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who is living in exile in Britain. Joorabchian says the men are friends and have done business before but insists that Berezovsky is not behind MSI.

There has also been speculation that the man behind the plan is in fact Abramovich himself. The Spanish sports daily As claimed this weekend that the Chelsea owner has a 15% share of MSI, suggesting the Corinthians deal is part of a plan to control the Latin American market. Tantalisingly, there are reports that Abramovich's yacht, Le Grand Blue, was spotted in Buenos Aires harbour days before the Tévez deal was announced. Joorabchian categorically denies any involvement with Abramovich. "We have no link with Chelsea," he says.

The 10-year deal between MSI and Corinthians stipulates that the company will provide $35m cash, of which about $20m will pay off debts, in return for 51% of future profits while covering any losses. The transfer of Tévez is extra, considered a "present" by Joorabchian to the club.

Critics of the deal say that not enough is known about Joorabchian and MSI, a company created in August whose registered address is that of an accountancy firm in central London. Joorabchian has refused to say who the investors are, saying this is common practice for any investment fund.

With an estimated 25m fans in Brazil, Corinthians are the second most popular team in the country and the biggest team in São Paulo, which is the richest and most populous state in Brazil. The club, named after the old London amateur team, won Fifa's inaugural World Club Championship in 2000 but since then the team has slumped dramatically.

Joorabchian hopes to turn Corinthians into a global brand and also make money by exploiting the merchandising possibilities of such a well-supported team.

Born in Iran and educated in Britain, Joorabchian first appeared in the media in 1999 when he and a partner bought an 85% stake in the Moscow newspaper Kommersant using an investment fund based in the British Virgin Islands. "We sold it to a group that [berezovsky] had an interest in," he said, adding that he has not done business with Berezovsky since.

The Kommersant deal started the speculation about Berezovsky's involvement, which appeared strengthened by comments in the Brazilian press attributed to Alberto Dualib, the Corinthians president. In transcripts of a tape recording, he said that on a recent visit to the UK with Joorabchian the two had visited Berezovsky's home near London.

Joorabchian has never been involved in football before, although he has a wide portfolio of business interests. In the register of directorships at Companies House he gives two different dates of birth - both make him 33 - and two nationalities, Canadian and British.

He said this week that he decided to move into football because he got bored with working in private equity. "We researched a little bit into Arsenal. It was far, far too expensive," he said. "I have a lot of Brazilian friends, so I looked into Brazilian football. It made sense."

Brazilian wariness about Joorabchian was high lighted by the fact that he is using Renato Duprat as his intermediary. Duprat is a controversial figure; he used to run a hospital and health insurance plan that went bust and he is now facing legal action.

One of those against the deal was Rubens Approbato Machado, a former president of the Brazilian equivalent of the Bar Council. He said that investigations of Joorabchian's business links had raised more questions than answers.

"Many doubts have been raised about the aptness of the person behind [MSI]," he said. "Many things have not been clearly explained. No one is against partnership if both sides are well defined. But this is not a partnership. It is almost an outright sale."

Ronaldo Pinto, who is president of the supporters group Hawks of the Faithful, added: "We are against it because we think that only a Corintiano should be in charge of Corinthians. These people want to get in the Brazilian market. I don't know who they are or why."


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Frank Stronach is much like a Canadian Abramovich. Owns two teams in Austria including Austria Vienna for which he spends like mad. Ante Jazic coincidentally referred to Stronach's club as "the Chelsea of Austria." I'm sure there's several other Canadians who invest big dollars in soccer abroad. It's so sad that we can't keep those dollars here in Canada and use them to establish ourselves in the sport. :(

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quote:The Spanish sports daily As claimed this weekend that the Chelsea owner has a 15% share of MSI, suggesting the Corinthians deal is part of a plan to control the Latin American market. Tantalisingly, there are reports that Abramovich's yacht, Le Grand Blue, was spotted in Buenos Aires harbour days before the Tévez deal was announced.
This sounds like a movie.

Anyway, I don't think the fact that he gives his nationality as Canadian means anything. I mean, he also gives two different birthdates.

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