The story of Porto's incredible Hulk exposes the shadowy business of 'off-shore transfers' ahead of the Europa League final

The Brazilian international has the chance to shine as the Dragons fight for the Europa League title, but the story behind his arrival in Europe is anything but straightforward
By Daniel Edwards

Along with Colombian hitman Radamel Falcao, Brazilian striker Givanildo Vieira de Souza - known to the world as Hulk - has helped make Porto one of the most fearsome attacking units in Europe.

The Selecao international has hit a stunning 23 goals in 26 appearances to help the club romp to the league title, and has netted a further eight in the Europa League, playing a huge part in leading the Dragons to a show-piece final against Braga this Wednesday.

The 24-year-old is undoubtedly a footballer with great talent and a sparkling future in the game, and it was no surprise last week when Porto increased their stake in one of their most precious gems. The former Vitoria, Kawasaki Frontale and Tokyo Verdy player signed a lucrative five-year contract, while the club splashed out a reported £13.1 million to now hold 85 per cent of his playing rights.

The splitting of a player’s contract rights is hardly a new phenomenon, and indeed is the norm in South America. For more attentive observers, however, the club who received the cash bonanza should have set off a few alarm bells.

The recipient of this small fortune was not the Brazilian club who gave him his first chance to shine after a nomadic youth career. Neither was it either of the top-drawer sides of the J-League, where Hulk spent four fruitful years learning his trade. Club Atletico Rentistas were the team reported as holding almost half of his contract on their books, despite the player never appearing for the Uruguayan Second Division outfit, nor even in the South American country.

Deadly duo | Falcao and Hulk have been electric as Porto romped to the title

The news betrays one of the more complex and controversial manners of transferring players, and in this case there is one instrumental figure working the machinations behind the curtain. Uruguayan businessman Juan Figer has been based in Brazil for many years, and has used this obscure lower-league institution - the name of which, ironically, can be translated as something like 'financiers' - as a halfway house to bring young samba stars to Europe. 'Off-shore transfers' is how one Uruguayan newspaper chose to define it, and Hulk is by no means the only who has been funnelled in this manner.

Young compatriot and Porto team-mate Walter was purchased in almost identical fashion by Figer from Internacional, again using Rentistas as a type of off-shore account to keep his contract and playing rights while he appeared for Colorado as a teenager. This means that when the offer came from Porto with Walter already an Inter first-teamer, 75% of the striker’s rights were exchanged for £5.25m. The money headed straight to a Uruguayan bank account and Figer instead of the Porto Alegre team.

Sporting’s Tiui also arrived in Portugal through the Uruguayan minnows, while research carried out by the newspaper Maisfutebol suggests that the business practice dates back to the 1980s, when Brazilian and South American players started crossing the Atlantic in record numbers. Paulo Silva and Uruguayan goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodriguez both moved to Sporting at the end of that decade, and Rentistas were again heavily involved in the paperwork of the transfers.

It should be pointed out that there is no suggestion that Figer is breaking rules when conducting business in this manner. He is a Fifa-licensed agent, indeed the longest-serving representative from his native country. That is not to say, however, that he has been above investigation. The Brazilians hauled him in for a hearing in 2001 to answer questions about how he operated.

The use of Rentistas and Central Espanol was a key area as they looked for evidence of misdeeds. He was also grilled under suspicion of influencing Brazil coaches' selections so that his players would gain caps and thus a greater value, and more seriously of forging European passports to facilitate moves across the Atlantic.

     Players who have worked with the agent

A controversial case in the investigations, and one that points to an unscrupulous business model if not an illegal one, was the career of ex-Rennes and Atletico PR forward Lucas Severino. Under questioning, Figer explained that he purchased the now-retired player for £246,000 from Atletico, shortly after arranging for a move to Europe which netted Rentistas £9.25m in 2001.

The agent was adamant that it was the Uruguayan club’s deal, not his - and that he only picked up 15 per cent of the profits as a standard agent’s fee. The real scandal, however, is that the club which helped mould Lucas into a player who could command such a large fee received less than 5% of the eventual value. Given the other cases, it is safe to assume that there are many other Brazilian football clubs who are not receiving due reward for their young gems. 

No charges were filed against the agent, and he continues to be one of South America’s premier agents and involved in deals worth millions of Euros and Dollars. One could even see his model becoming more, not less accepted. Since in Europe the current is moving against third-party ownership and the investment groups so common in South America, such ‘off-shore transfers’ could become the latest loophole for investors and speculators like Figer to continue making a small fortune from emerging Brazilian talent.

The rise to prominence of Hulk as a force in European football has at least shone some light on this murky practice of using clubs as intermediaries in multi-million Euro transfers. The question, however, must be answered, as to whether football’s highest governing bodies are willing to let this shadowy trade in players continue unchecked.

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