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Money never sleeps

Money never sleeps

Andy Brassell on 20 August 2011

If ever a biopic was made on FC Porto’s rise over the last 25 years, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa would feature prominently, but what kind of portrayal would be most accurate?

The 2009 film ‘Notorious’, a biographical précis of the life of Biggie Smalls, was an entertaining tale, and not just because it was flush with Biggie’s music, but at reaching the end, you feel a little hoodwinked. Even if you’re not much of a fan of Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, you’ll reach the end of the film and, having seen his contribution to Big’s career, his easy charm, his kindness to Big’s mother Voletta and you’ll think to yourself – what a lovely bloke. Then the credits roll. Executive producer: Sean Combs. Ah. If ever a biopic was made on FC Porto’s rise over the last 25 years, one can easily imagine president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa picking Michael Douglas to play himself, given the latter’s infamous portrayal of Gordon Gecko in the ‘Wall Street’ films.

Don’t think he hasn’t thought about it. The club is scheduled to open a museum next April, with the inauguration set to almost perfectly coincide with the 30th anniversary of Pinto da Costa’s ascension to the club presidency. He is a man who sharply divides opinion, especially in Portugal where he is seen as a Machiavellian genius by his (and Porto’s) supporters, and as an underhand, all-powerful crook by his detractors, who are not merely limited to Benfica fans. The 2006 book Eu, Carolina (‘I, Carolina’), was an exposé by Pinto da Costa’s former girlfriend Carolina Salgado, presenting accounts of the president’s behind-closed-doors business and portraying him as a vain, pompous man at best – who instructed Carolina to smoke during meetings to mask the smell of his flatulence. 

The ins and outs of the Apito Dourado (Golden Whistle) and Apito Final (Final Whistle) cases, investigating alleged attempts to influence match officials following the allegations in Eu, Carolina, is a discussion for another time and place (although it must be mentioned that none of the charges against the club have ever stuck), but what is clear is that Pinto da Costa’s manoeuvring has been a key driving force behind Porto’s establishment as Portugal’s most successful club. The club has won 18 of its 25 national championships since he arrived, plus five European titles and two World Club Championships.

In the post-José Mourinho years, he has started to be recognised Europe-wide for his running of the club as a business too. It’s certainly very hard to imagine him telling a TV journalist to “f*** off” for calling him a wheeler-dealer. He would revel in such a title. When Porto announced last night to the CMVM (Comissão do Mercado de Valores Mobiliários – the regulatory board for the Portuguese stock exchange) that a deal had been struck to sell Radamel Falcao and Ruben Micael to Atlético Madrid for a joint €45m, the message was clear. Pinto da Costa had only gone and done it again.

The eagle-eyed and eared among you may note that Falcao signed a new contract extension just one month ago, going through to 2015 and raising his release clause to from €30m to €45m, seemingly warding off the advances of the top clubs circling the Colombian. The details of the deal with Atléti are as follows; Portugal international midfielder Micael is valued at €5m, valuing Falcao at €45m. But – and this is a fairly substantial ‘but’ – add-ons related to personal and team objectives could see Atléti paying up to €7m more. In other words, taking the fee above the release clause. Even if these conditions aren’t met – and who in their right minds would bet on Atléti definitely winning something this season? – Porto have sold their star striker for €10m more than the maximum figure possible just five weeks ago.

It also represents a humungous profit on the club’s initial outlay, having bought 60% of Falcao’s registration from River Plate in 2009 for €3.9m (replacing Lisandro López, sold to Lyon for an initial €24m) and topped it up to the full 100% last year for a paltry additional €1.5m. Playing the percentages game is an important aspect of Pinto da Costa’s business dealings. Third-party ownership may be a no-no in the English Premier League, but it is rife in Portugal, partly due to the amount of transfer traffic incoming from South America, where agents retain financial interest in players in return for giving stricken clubs much-needed liquidity.

Porto have used the system in the same way on occasion. Feeling the effects of a rare failure to qualify for the Champions League, they topped up the coffers with around €9m last October, selling partial economic rights to João Moutinho (37.5%, for €4.125m), James Rodríguez (35%, €2.55m) and Walter (25%, €2.15m). In a position of strength this summer, the club paid €4m to take back 22.5% of the rights to Moutinho. The same has happened with Hulk, with Porto spending €13.5m for 40% more of his registration, bringing the total to 85% (and the total investment to a club-record €19m). Both these deal will maximise profits from future sales.

And there will be more sales. Pinto da Costa has been laying the groundwork for the current movement for some weeks. After completing the €13m signing of Standard Liège pair Eliaquim Mangala and Steven Defour earlier this week, Porto went over their record spend for a summer, with the total reaching €43m. The Atléti deal has wiped out that spend at a stroke, but it is unlikely Porto will stop there. The Brazilian Kléber had already been recruited for €2.5m as a Falcao replacement, and the big money deals bringing in his countrymen Danilo (€13m)and Alex Sandro (€9.6m) will almost certainly cover future departures. The arrival of Sandro, a promising left-back, suggests Porto may be readying themselves to cash in on Uruguay star Álvaro Pereira, heavily linked with Chelsea and Liverpool.

Meanwhile, the industry goes on. After the Lisandro deal, the figures looked astounding; Porto had sold over €200m-worth of players since Mourinho guided the club to the 2004 Champions League title, while continuing to win silverware. We shouldn’t airbrush history as regards the general quality of the club’s recruitment – Porto have signed some duffers in the same period, with Diego and Luis Fabiano among the more puzzling failures at the Dragão in recent years.

Yet even at 73 years old, Pinto da Costa is still learning to play the market better. Defour is widely thought to be intended as an eventual replacement for Moutinho, the midfield lynchpin whose value has soared since arriving from Sporting in a controversial €11m deal last summer. The parallels between the two midfielders are marked. Moutinho arrived in the north with his reputation teetering, and having recently missed out on the Portugal World Cup squad. He is now a mainstay for Paulo Bento and will attempt to win his sixth trophy in just over a year in the European Supercup final against Barcelona next week.

Similarly, Defour is a long-feted talent whose progress has ground to a crawl, after previously being linked with a £15m+ move to Manchester United. His own move to Portugal cost just €6m, and few would bet against him enjoying a fruitful season at the hub of Vitor Pereira’s side before being moved on at a significant profit.

Even the coach himself has a release clause in his contract, of €18m, but that won’t be a surprise, with the knowledge that a €15m clause in his predecessor André Villas-Boas’ deal was activated to facilitate his move to Chelsea. Yes, Pinto da Costa is even selling coaches nowadays. The beauty of that deal was that Porto could play the victim in the AVB deal, rightly arguing that they had no legal grounds on which to refuse to let him go after the clause was met.

With his enduring golden touch, who would bet against Pinto da Costa getting that biopic in the future? Yet, as someone who moves with the times in such a lithe manner, perhaps Michael Douglas is a bit old hat. Where’s P Diddy?

Andy Brassell is an acclaimed football writer and the author of 'All or Nothing: A year in the life of the Champions League', he is also a regular presenter on BBC 5Live's World Football Phone-in.


Hey Andy,

Naughty piece there, but then I'm firmly on the "Machiavellian Genius" side.

Unfortunate the continued use of the man's farting as it is one of cheapest, under-the-belt, shots in football politics and media coverage.

Why not mention in the same paragraph that Carolina Salgado's testimony was completely debunked in court, not to mention her blatant collusion/involvement with Benfica's President and other club officials PLUS some journalists and commentators affiliated with the Lisbon club? Why not mention the the relentless media campaign against Porto and Pinto da Costa, condemning man and club well before the matters hit the courts?

May speaking of flatulence makes for a much more eye-catching blog entry, but then that is the way of society nowadays with cheap thrills, instant gratification, et al.

Please don't take this comment the wrong way or indeed personally. You are merely following the trend.

But I would really love to read more about how Porto (or Udinese) go about turning less known players (watch out for Kléber, Maicon, Walter, Souza and Kelvin in the coming years) into (1) great footballing teams and (2) "Cash-Cows" for the club.

I would love to read a report on the internal mechanics of Porto's fabled professional organization. Or for instance how do they go about prospecting future players? Or even why the club's youngsters are failing to get into the senior team?

But alas, that can always be written about later. It's just not that interesting right now.

Take care,

by hmocc on 23 August 2011 at 01:55 PM

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