Friday, April 17, 2009

Dirty Polish Link

Costa Nhaominesu
THE controversial transfer of a Zimbabwean player to a Polish club — whose reputation was battered by its links to a match-fixing web that triggered its forced relegation from the top-flight league last season — has become a key part of investigations into doggy transfers on the domestic scene.

The investigation has already attracted the interest of world football governing body Fifa.

Four Zimbabwean players were all cleared to play in Poland on the same day, from the same local club, last year and their bloc transfer has become a big part of investigations involving suspected local ghost clubs.

One of the Polish clubs involved in the transfers had its reputation soiled when it was involved in a match-fixing scandal which forced football authorities in that country to forcibly relegate it from the top-flight league — the Ekstraklasa — last season.

All the four Zimbabwean players were transferred from DT Africa United — a local football franchise that turned into a ghost club after it withdrew from the Zifa Division Two league last year, without kicking a ball all season, citing international commitments.

DT Africa United were also behind the transfer of Zimbabwe international forward Clemence Matawu to Poland this year — a move that has sparked a storm amid revelations that it was plagued by gross irregularities.

The country’s football leadership has been asked to compile a dossier of international transfers, involving Zimbabwean players, so that Fifa can revisit all the transactions and establish whether there was serious breach of protocol in the deals.

There are serious concerns that some ghost clubs and agents could be taking advantage of Zimbabwean players — desperate for a move abroad — to short-change them through dubious deals where the players earn peanuts while the clubs pocket the lion’s share from the deals.

Four Zimbabwean players — Costa Nhaominesu, Patmore Shereni, Ndabenkulu Ncube and Clarence Foroma — were transferred in February last year from DT Africa United to clubs in Poland.

The 23-year-old Nhamoinesu, a gifted individual who impressed at Masvingo United, was the player with the biggest profile among the quartet whose International Transfer Certificates were issued on the same day in February last year.

The gangly left-sided midfielder’s contract with Masvingo United expired at the end of the domestic season in 2007 and he was immediately lured to the capital where he signed a deal with DT Africa United.

He did not play even a single game for the club — who did not kick a ball all season — and, just a month after joining them, he was on his way to Poland where he joined Zaglebie Lubin who had won the Polish championship the previous season.

Masvingo United, who played a big part in the player’s development and spent a fortune in giving him a platform to showcase his talent and attract the interest of the foreign clubs, did not get even a single cent in return for the investment.

Instead, DT Africa United, who signed him in the month that he left for Poland, appear to be the club who reaped huge benefits from his transfer.

Nhamoinesu, though, did not join a club that was in the top-flight league but one that had been forcibly relegated into League One following revelations that they had taken part in a match-fixing web that led to their promotion into the Ekstraklasa at the end of the 2004/2005 season.

Other Polish clubs — Wiezew Lodz, Arka Gdynia, Gornik Leczna, Gornik Polkowice, Jagiellonia Bialystoc, KSZO Ostrowiec Swietokrzyski and Zaglebie — were also forced down a division by the country’s football authorities due to their involvement in this web of corruption.

They were also docked points as part of the punishment.

Seventeen people — including several referees and officials of the Polish Football Federation — received suspended prison sentences for their part in the scandal.

Nhamoinesu’s International Transfer Certificate was issued on February 28 2008 — the same day that the same documents were issued for the transfer of Shereni, Ncube and Foroma to Polish clubs.

Shereni, the younger brother of former Zimbabwe international Harlington, is now at Podbeskidzie Beilsko Biala — the same League One club that Matawu joined in February this year.

Ncube, an unheralded 21-year-old player, and Foroma — a nomadic striker who has played for a number of clubs on the domestic scene — are both at Wisla Ustronianka.

The International Transfer Certificate Number for Nhamoinesu is 1092, for Shereni is 1093, for Ncube is 1094 and for Foroma is 1095.

Virtually all the players who are transferred from DT Africa United into Poland go under the pretext that they are either on attachment — or on a free loan — suggesting that there is no financial component involved in their move.

However, local football authorities suspect that this could be part of a grand scheme to conceal earnings from the transfers, which go into the off-shore accounts of the ghost clubs and agents, by giving an impression that the players are going for free.

The link between DT Africa United and a club caught up in the corruption web that rocked Polish football could also give an insight into the possibility that there could be a number of secret transactions involving the transfer of Zimbabwean players to that country.

If a club was found guilty of being part of a match-fixing scandal, chances are that the same club could be coerced to lie about the financial transactions involving the transfer of a player from Zimbabwe and thereby give local football authorities the impression that no money is changing hands.

Given that player transfers in football involve huge sums of money, the income generated is supposed to be declared for tax purposes but a number of local clubs — especially the ghost franchises — have found a way to evade tax by claiming that players were going on loan for free.

Yesterday Zifa chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya, who is helping Fifa with their investigations, said it was virtually impossible to believe that all the players who were being transferred from DT Africa United to Poland were going for free.

"We would like to establish why DT Africa United appear so keen on signing these players, immediately after their contracts
had expired, and then take them to Poland if there are no financial benefits for the club involved.

"We would also like to establish whether players are being deliberately tapped from their clubs and influenced, not to extend their contracts, on the basis that if they join DT Africa United then they will be sent to Poland.

"We also want to look at the direct benefits to the players because we don’t want a situation whereby we encourage something that is close to the export of cheap labour, where our players get peanuts, with these clubs getting all the fortune.

"The issue of the ghost clubs and agents is also a big one given that it’s not just possible for a player to move from Masvingo United or Motor Action to a club that is not playing football at all here.

"Then the next thing we hear is that the same player is now in Poland and his last club in Zimbabwe was DT Africa United when that club is not even part of the football family here and when that player has not played even a single game for that club."

But given all these concerns, why then did Zifa issue the International Transfer Certificates for the players?

"The key issue here is that we never wanted to place the player at a disadvantage given that we believed it was part of his development to move from the local league to one in Europe," said Rushwaya.

"We put the football interests of the player first and in, doing so, we felt we were obliged to issue the International Transfer Certificate so that he can continue with his career — given that it is his only source of income.

"As for the administrative part of things, like the questions we are now raising, it was our decision that this could be done without jeorpadising the football interests of the players and that is why we issued the ITCs.

"If we had not issued the ITCs, it means that the players would not have completed their move and they would still be here, possibly without a club, while we continue with our investigations and we felt that would not be fair.

"If you look at the focus of our investigations, you will see that it gives the player the benefit of doubt that he was probably coerced into a deal, with the prospects that it was his only way to go to Europe, and he jumped at it.

"You will also realise that we are also looking at the direct benefits for the players — in these deals — so that they are not abused with the bulk of the money going into the pockets of clubs or agents.

"We all want our players to go to Europe but we want proper football channels to be followed."

The case involving the transfer of Zimbabwean players is already being handled by Fifa and Zifa have been in touch with the head of the world football governing body’s disciplinary and governance legal division, Paolo Lombardi.

The Fifa investigation — precipitated by a complaint raised by Zifa — was sparked by the gross anomalies that surrounded Matawu’s move to Polish side Podbeskidzie Beilsko Biala.

Matawu spent all his playing days, on the domestic scene, at Premiership club Motor Action who plucked him from obscurity and helped turn him into one of the best players who was good enough to win the Soccer Star of the Year in 2006.

The anomalies related to his transfer include:

l The fact that there is no real contract at Zifa, stating the period of attachment for Matawu at DT Africa United, and the details related to his perks.

l The fact that the contract entered into between DT Africa United and Matawu was never submitted to the relevant football authorities, as should be the case, how then would it be used in the event of conflict resolution mechanisms?

l The fact that in the event of a dispute, either financial or material that might arise from the marriage between Matawu and DT Africa United, how then can local football authorities intervene given that the club is not part of their structures?

l Given the apparent desperation that can be detected in the player for a move abroad, to the extent that he signed with such a ghost club, what are the chances that his interests would be well protected in such a deal?

l Was this deal a free loan transfer, as suggested by DT Africa United in their official correspondence, or was there a secret exchange of money that has been kept away from the relevant football authorities