Image Rights Prove Football is the Panama of all Panamas
Pray for Lionel, my friends. His name is in the Panama Papers and unlike all of those toffs of a certain age whom we now know have been busy offshore, they want to tell us that Messi is the victim. A company for which he and his father are co-signatories was set up in Panama in 2015, a day after the player was charged with tax irregularities, documents from the Mossack Fonseca cache appear to show. But Leo possessing that stardust quality of his, the global response is not exactly the one which Sigmundur Gunnlaughsson, Gianni Infantino and a bunch of Tories can say they are familiar with. “False and injurious” is what the family claims this disclosure about the ‘Star Enterprises’ shell company to be. And though no one is actually calling it criminal to plough a hefty wad of your £40m annual salary offshore to limit your tax, when the Spanish nation which has nurtured you is experiencing the agony of 22.4 per cent unemployment, Barcelona are not taking a sceptical view, either. The club quickly said it offers “affection and support to the player and his whole family and makes all judicial means at its disposal. “Mas que un club indeed.
The rebuttal is the version of the story which has been washing around the internet for the past 72 hours, with the Messis insist- ing that the Panama company is “inactive and dormant.” And it could, indeed, be an account that they didn’t bother to get to work on. But what can be said without fear of contradiction, is that there will be another Messi account, registered where the sea laps the shores, into which he deposits a vast stash of cash earned because of the ubiquitous entity called image rights. How can we be so sure? Because almost every self-respecting top-f light player in every self-respecting league in Europe will have struck an agreement with the club he signs for that a percentage of his wage, typically 15 per cent, will be syphoned off into an account established for image rights. When you are hearing about your club concluding a transfer this summer, be assured that one of the first questions he is being asked will be: “Do you have an entity?” Or: “How would you like us to do the 15 per cent?”
Where does his money go in Spain, I ask my friend who operates in the business of La Liga and knows it extremely well. “Offshore usually,” he says. Nice work for Messi - but nicer work still for those my friend describes as the “less successful” players who you really can’t see enhancing the club’s image all that much but who will still get that cut hived off.
It’s the same here. A nice little slice of protected income. If evidence were really needed that this is a preposterous artificial construct, designed to line the pockets of individuals who increasingly command six figures a week, then it comes in the revelation that Manuel Pellegrini earns image rights.
Messi will not have an entirely easy ride in
Messi will not have an entirely easy ride in Spain. Real Madrid’s political power and influence will make sure of it