x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Not enough money for Ronaldo, Messi and Bale? Just ask the fans

An idea by two Emirati entrepreneurs could help managers in buying expensive players, writes Ali Khaled.

After winning many accolades last season, Gareth Bale is on the wish list for many clubs but his stock has also risen. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo
After winning many accolades last season, Gareth Bale is on the wish list for many clubs but his stock has also risen. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo

Right, Manchester United fans, here is the deal. There is an estimated 600 million of you around the world, and counting.

If each donates just US$1 (Dh3.6m) towards David Moyes's transfer kitty, he would be in a position to bring back Cristiano Ronaldo, sign up Lionel Messi, and still have enough change to stick Gareth Bale on the bench.

It sounds like an unlikely scenario from a particularly successful session of Championship Manager.

Two Emirati brothers, Faisal and Khalfan Belhoul, however, are hoping to turn such fantasy into reality.

On Wednesday, at the Armani Hotel at Burj Khalifa, the Dubai-based businessmen launched BuyMyPlayer (www.buymyplayer.com), an online "sport-funding platform" that provides supporters the chance to pledge money to help secure the their clubs' transfer targets.

"A lot of clubs fall short of making the necessary transfers due to lack of adequate funding," said Faisal, the project's chairman. "BuyMyPlayer is a channel these clubs can easily utilise."

Here is how it works. Having registered their emails and teams they support, fans would have two main options to choose from. The first is the "pre-pledge", which allows the fans to indicate a preference for a certain player joining their clubs with a virtual contribution.

If a nomination receives more than 10,000 supporters, it will be taken under consideration by the platform, and the participating clubs. The second, and potentially more tangible option, is "live-pledging", which involves turning that virtual pledge into an actual financial transaction once the selling club have indicated a price that the buyers are looking to meet.

The supporters can pledge any amount towards the signing, with some of the benefits being access to match tickets and meeting players. The money will be refunded in full if the transfer falls through.

Belhoul believes the system is not as far-fetched as it may seem. On the contrary, he says it could be the future of transfers for many football clubs, and says that several ones approached so far have indicated a willingness to work with BuyMyPlayer.

To what extent bigger clubs are willing to participate remains to be seen, but Khalfan, the BuyMyPlayer chief executive, has no doubts when it comes to fans, saying tens of thousands have registered their emails at the website.

"We know there are masses out there that would do the same," he said. "This was verified from all the feedback we gathered from our database during the pilot phase."

In its first phase the platform will be restricted to clubs in Europe's top five leagues, those in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

Will football's establishment be open to such a concept?

From a professional point of view, support for the launch came from Arsenal's Bacary Sagna and the former Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado, the football ambassador for Dubai Sports City.

"When I first heard about it I thought: 'What are they thinking? The agents will kill them,'" Salgado said, and added: "But when they explained to me point by point what they plan to do, I realised it is a great idea."

Salgado's home country of Spain is no stranger to fan initiatives to help struggling clubs. Last season, for example, fans of Real Oviedo pooled their finances to save their club from going into administration. Similarly Portsmouth, in England, were saved by the pledges of their supporters.

The case for individual player transfers, however, would be more complicated.

Over recent years cases of outside entities partly funding player transfers have arisen. Most commonly, sporting agencies or banks, especially in Spain, have contributed to transfer fees, leading to the troublesome and murky world of third-party ownership, and who gets what percentage from subsequent transfers.

Khalfan Belhoul maintains that BuyMyPlayer is nothing more than a "catalyst" to making transfers happen that otherwise would not, and was keen to highlight that this can be done only with the consent of all parties concerned: football authorities, the two clubs, the player and the agent.

Above all it will rely on the passion and devotion of fans. It is certainly a brave venture, "revolutionary" according to Salgado, the platform's brand ambassador. It may turn out to be an idea more attractive to less well-off clubs, perhaps those just promoted or struggling to stay up.

Having their funds boosted in the January transfer window, for example, might be an option they cannot afford to discount in what Salgado called "difficult markets".

Further down the line, the concept may work a treat for clubs in the lower tiers of Europe's top nations and around the world because the founders intend to expand it.

"These days, no club will say no to extra funding," Faisal Belhoul said.

Even David Moyes?


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