News Live Scores
Juventus

From the Pjanic-Arthur transfer to questions over Ronaldo's sale: Could Juventus be relegated again?

08:00 GMT 06/12/2021
Arthur Cristiano Ronaldo Miralem Pjanic Juventus Barcelona GFX
Italian authorities are investigating potential financial irregularities relating to 62 transfers, 42 of which involve the Bianconeri

Wins this past week over Salernitana and Genoa may have brought some temporary respite for Juventus, though only on the field.

Off the field, the Bianconeri remain mired in a financial investigation that is already shaping up as the biggest controversy to hit Italian football since 'Calciopoli'.

Back in 2006, Juventus were relegated to Serie B and stripped of two Serie A titles for their role in a refereeing scandal that also resulted in fines and points deductions for AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina.

This time around, the focus is on finances, and plusvalenza (capital gains) in particular.

So, what exactly is this potentially era-defining affair all about? Could Juve really find themselves back in Italy's second division? And where does Cristiano Ronaldo fit into it all?

GOAL explains all below, detailing everything we know so far, as well as outlining what might happen next...

What is plusvalenza?

In football, plusvalenza (capital gains) is basically the profit made on a transfer.

Say, for example, Juventus sign a player for €100 million on a five-year contract. They would amortize the cost of the player's registration rights over the duration of his contract, most likely spreading the payments out equally over five years. In short, the player's amortized value would be €20m per year (€100m divided by five).

So, if Juve then sold that player after three years for €60m, they would make a capital gain of €20m on his registration rights (€60m minus the remaining €40m in amortized value).

Why are capital gains important in football?

Because they count directly towards a club's annual profits, and this is now of greater importance than ever before because of the introduction of UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations more than a decade ago.

As we all know, clubs' balance sheets are under intense scrutiny these days, and those found to have broken the rules can face severe punishments.

The pressure, then, is very much on the clubs to balance their books on an annual basis.

Some clubs have reportedly resorted to inflating the value of assets in order to be seen to have made a profit on certain transfers.

This is often done in the movement of young players. Academy players are homegrown, they usually arrive for free, meaning that if they are sold, the fee is pure profit.

As the price of unknown academy players can be over-inflated, it is difficult to judge their true value.

Consequently, clubs could insert players of a dubious value into swap deals or player-plus-cash transfers in order to help balance the books.

Is this only an Italian problem?

As the Gazzetta dello Sport outlined last week, the practice of plusvalenza is undeniably of colossal importance in Italy.

In 2018-19, the last season before Covid-19 hit, 20 Serie A clubs made a total of €699m in capital gains – more than any of the other 'Big Five' leagues.

Tellingly, that figure is also higher than the sum of money the Italian top flight made from commercial deals during the same financial year (€647m), underlining just how dependent Serie A sides are on the transfer market to turn a profit.

The Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga clubs are all generating far more money, as a collective, from TV rights and sponsorship agreements than buying and selling players.

Obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making profits on transfers. Issues only arise when clubs are inflating the value of players, and it is worth remembering that this remains an issue in many other domestic leagues.

The difference is that while this affair does involve clubs in other countries, it is focused on Italy, and Juventus in particular.

Why are Juventus at the centre of this scandal?

Last summer, Arthur Melo moved from Catalunya to Turin, while Miralem Pjanic went in the opposite direction.

Officially, these two deals were not connected. They were not announced as part of the same transfer.

Barcelona stated that Juve had agreed to pay an initial €72m for Arthur, while Pjanic had been acquired for €60m.

Both clubs were, thus, in a position to post a capital gain on their outgoing player, while Juve only had to hand over €12m in cash.

It was an agreement that suited both parties, but especially cash-strapped Barca as they edged closer to posting a profit before the end of the financial year.

This exchange was more about finances than football, and it was openly written about at the time.

Neither player appears worth his respective fee, particularly in the current, Covid-19 affected economic climate, but that was considered unimportant.

There was no threat of investigation, let alone punishment. Until now...

Why?

It has now emerged that three separate Italian bodies have been scrutinising transfers involving Juventus and others clubs, including the Pjanic-Arthur swap, as well as a similar operation in 2019 that saw Danilo (€37m) arrive in Turin and Joao Cancelo (€65m) move to Manchester City.

Just over a year ago, COVISOC, the supervisory commission for Serie A, began investigating "dozens" of deals involving player valuations.

It passed its findings on to the Public Prosecutor of Turin, who opened a criminal investigation in May called 'Prisma'.

On July 12, CONSOB, the financial regulator responsible for monitoring the dealings of clubs quoted on the stock exchange (like Juventus), began looking into 62 transfers relating to the 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, 42 of which involved Juve.

According to Sky Sport Italia and ANSA, those deals were worth a grand total of €282m in capital gains.

Are Juventus the only big club involved?

Not at all. Some of the deals under the spotlight involve Sampdoria, Roma and Atalanta, including the latter's sale of Cristian Romero to Tottenham.

However, the most high-profile transfer being investigated is arguably that of Victor Osimhen, who moved from Lille to Napoli last year.

The fee, on paper at least, was €70m, but the inclusion of four Napoli players accounted for €20m of the fee: goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis and three Primavera players (Claudio Manzi, Ciro Palmieri and Luigi Liguori) who were promptly released without having made a single appearance for Lille.

When asked about the investigation into the legitimacy of that transfer, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis told the New York Times, "I'm not worried because I'm a warrior."

The investigation, though, has ramped up several notches in the past week, particularly in relation to Juve's role in it all.

It is not just that they are involved in two-thirds of the transfers. There's also the fact that Juve are listed on the stock exchange and that falls under the remit of Italy's financial police, Guardia di Finanzia.

And it was they who turned up at the club's base at Continassa last week to seize documents relating to the transfers in question.

Who exactly is under investigation?

Juventus club president Andrea Agnelli, vice-chairman Pavel Nedved, chief corporate & financial officer Stefan Cerrato, former managing director Fabio Paratici (now of Tottenham), former chief financial officer Stefano Bertola and his predecessor Marco Re.

The Turin Public Prosecutor's Office issued a statement on November 27 which read: “Since this afternoon, on the orders of this Public Prosecutor's Office, soldiers of the Guardia di Finanza have been carrying out local searches at the Turin and Milan offices of Juventus Football Club Spa.

“The financiers of the Turin Economic-Financial Police Unit, delegated to the investigations, were instructed to find documentation and other useful elements relating to the company financial statements approved in the years from 2019 to 2021, with reference to both the purchase and sale of rights to the sports performance of the players, and the regular formation of financial statements.

“At present, the activities are aimed at ascertaining the crime of false communications from listed companies and issuing invoices for non-existent transactions, towards the top management and the managers of the business, financial and sports management areas.

"Under consideration there are various transfer operations of professional players and the services rendered by some agents involved in the relative intermediaries.”

How have Juventus responded to the investigation?

The club promptly released a statement of their own:

"The company is cooperating with the investigators and with CONSOB, and trusts that it will clarify any aspect of interest to it as it believes to have acted in compliance with the laws and regulations governing the preparation of financial reports, in accordance with accounting principles and in line with the international practice in the football industry and market conditions.

"In connection with the capital increase, which was resolved upon by the Shareholders’ meeting on October 29, 2021, the company hereby confirms the timing disclosed in the press release dated November 22, 2021 and, accordingly, that the period for the exercise of preemptive rights and trading of such rights will commence on November 29, 2021."

John Elkann, CEO of EXOR, which holds a controlling stake in Juventus, addressed the issue on November 30.

"The club has already commented on the ongoing investigations, it is collaborating with investigators and is confident of shedding light on the matter," he told reporters.

"I am confident in the work of the Italian magistrate. You know that Juventus has a new board of directors, a new CEO, a new coach, who, with the president and the vice-president, are facing up to these difficult moments.

"I'm convinced that the future of Juventus will be as important as its history. It's a great club and there is the will for it to remain so."

Indeed, Nedved dismissed the suggestion that the Bianconeri were in serious trouble and denied rumours that both he and Agnelli could be removed from their respective roles.

"I don't think so," the former Juve midfielder told DAZN ahead of the Salernitana game on Tuesday. "We released a very clear statement, president Andrea Agnelli also expressed himself.

"He spoke to the team, the employees, and also to majority shareholder John Elkann. I don’t think it’s right that I add anything to all of that.”

Nedved also said: "I don’t think there will be problems within the club and I certainly don’t believe it will affect the players. They are experienced and focused on the pitch.

"Over these years, and I have been off the field for 11 years now, we’ve had many difficulties and always got through them."

Elsewhere, former Juventus sporting director Luciano Moggi, the man at the centre of the Calciopoli scandal, claimed that the investigation was nothing more than another witch-hunt.

"Attacking Juventus is now truly a national sport," he told notizie.com.

Why has Ronaldo's name been brought up?

According to the Gazzetta, the former Juventus forward could be questioned by investigators trying to locate an alleged 'secret payment' made to the Portuguese player.

Several Italian news outlets have reported that during a conversation between lawyer Cesare Gabasio and Juventus director Federico Cherubini recorded by wire taps, reference was made to a "famous document that should not have theoretically existed".

The investigators have, thus far, found no record of this document anywhere on Juve's books.

As it stands, there is absolutely no implication that Ronaldo has done anything wrong, but the Gazzetta claims that the Turin Public Prosecutor may seek clarification on the matter from the Manchester United forward.

The Corriere della Sera, though, says that Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, may be questioned instead, and might be summoned after the Christmas break, given the mystery document is not directly related to the plusvalenza inquiry.

In addition, Juventus disclosed on Thursday evening that the Turin Public Prosecutor was also investigating Ronaldo's move to Old Trafford just before the close of the summer transfer window.

"As already announced, Juventus is collaborating with the investigators and CONSOB," a statement read, "and is confident that it will clarify every aspect of the investigation, believing that it has operated in compliance with the laws and regulations governing the preparation of financial reports, in compliance with accounting principles, and in line with the international football industry practice and market condition."

What could happen to those found guilty?

According to Marco Donzelli, president of CODACONS, the Italian association for the protection of consumer rights, Juventus could, 15 years after Calciopoli, be once again relegated and stripped of Serie A titles.

“The accusatory system is very serious and throws a sinister light on the last football championships, also because there has been a real Juventus dominance in recent years, which ended in the past year,” Donzelli stated, alluding to the fact that the Bianconeri won nine consecutive Serie A titles between 2012 and 2020.

"If Juventus were to have illegitimately gained an advantage over rival clubs with operations of this type, then the regularity of the last football championships would fail and, as a consequence, the Federation and the Authority for market competition will have to intervene and sanction those responsible.

"Beyond individual responsibilities, the club will not be exempt from punishment.

"For this reason and to protect thousands of fans, we will present a complaint to the Antitrust and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office asking for the relegation to Serie B for Juventus and the revocation of the last league titles won in the shadow of these potentially illegal operations."

It is worth noting that his affair is not without precedent, in any way, shape or form.

AC Milan and city rivals Inter were both investigated for alleged financial irregularities related to capital gains in 2008 but neither club was sanctioned – again, because of the difficulty involved in determining a player's true market value.

However, in 2018, Cesena were deducted three points for repeated infringements of the plusvalenza regulations.

So, what will happen next?

Firstly, it is clear that the system is in dire need of reform. As a COVISOC source told ANSA, "The phenomenon of false accounting can put clubs in serious crisis and affects the Italian football system."

FIGC president Gabriel Gravina has long been aware of the problem and welcomes the fact that it is now being tackled by several authorities, both inside and outside of the game.

“We have been working on this issue for the last two-to-three years," he told reporters. "Now, we must combine the civil issue with the sporting element, so we are following the lead of the magistrates, who have more effective tools than the sporting judiciary.

"Also, there is a specific commission at UEFA that is working on this matter that will soon take some preventative measures."

Resolving the capital gains problem will not be easy, though. It is difficult to find an infallible method for determining a player's true value.

"I see so many scientists around but something so subjective cannot be translated into an algorithm," Gravina added.

The FIGC boss also correctly pointed out that false accounting is a product of football's broken financial model, which has been brutally exposed by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Essentially, in their desperation to cover the exorbitant cost of player wages, some clubs are taking risks, cutting corners or, worse, breaking rules. As Gravina put it, "the cost of labour is no longer sustainable".

When will the investigation be completed?

At Juventus, Cerrato and Under-23s director Giovanni Manna have already been interviewed by the Turin Public Prosecutor's office, while Cherubini and Maurizio Arrivabene were questioned as persons 'informed of the facts'.

Re and Bertola were also summoned but, according to the Corriere della Sera, both refused to answer any questions.

It is not yet known if Agnelli, Paratici and Nedved will be questioned. However, it is believed that the investigation could be completed inside the next two weeks.

It will then be up to the relevant authorities to determine whether any financial or sporting regulations have been broken, and if any punishment is warranted.

According to two Juventus directors recorded by the wiretaps, "only Calciopoli was worse than this".

We will soon find out if that is the case.