FIFA systems not enough to stop David de Gea farce happening again

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The saying goes that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. David de Gea emerged in the evening light at Las Rozas Soccer City in Madrid to report for training with the Spanish national team on September 1, after the time for European clubs to complete transfers had passed, looking very much the latter. Manchester United and Real Madrid, in the subsequent hours and days, did their best to orphan the blame for his failed transfer.

He had just missed out on the move he had pined for all summer. De Gea wanted to return home to Spain and Madrid, as did his family. His house in Manchester was put up for sale and he'd lost his place in goal for the Red Devils.

He even had a suit made specially for a 1pm presentation that would never happen. A tabloid saga has real life impact, no matter how cartoonish it may seem at times.

There's no need to weep for De Gea of course, despite the fact he remains in an odd sort of limbo. He will likely get the move he desires eventually, either in January or next summer, and at 24-years-old he has his best years ahead of him for both club and country.

What the saga involving De Gea's move to Real Madrid from Manchester United did do is expose some of the mechanisms of transfers themselves, and with it the inherent flaws of trying to organise and codify an archaic system that those involved would rather keep behind closed doors and in secret, unofficial meetings.

The tensions from within Manchester United and Real Madrid at the end of a tiresome saga with De Gea at the centre spewed to the surface with two tit-for-tat statements laying blame with the other in the days after the deal fell through.

Real Madrid say they initiated contact with Manchester United at around 11am Spanish time on deadline day and a deal was quickly agreed worth around £29 million including Keylor Navas. After some minor contractual changes the documents were sent over to England at 13:39. From there, it gets a little messy and the dispute seemingly boils down to the contractual changes made which Manchester United say put the 'deal at risk' but Madrid say United, who took eight hours to respond, requested in the first place.

There's also a discrepancy over which documents were sent at the right time; Manchester United say they hadn't received the required paperwork for Keylor Navas while in their statement Real Madrid say they were waiting for the Costa Rican's details to be input into FIFA's Transfer Matching System (TMS) by the Red Devils.

The only thing that is clear from the two statements is that it's impossible to get to the truth of the matter and apportion blame - although there's a black mark against Real Madrid because they didn't inform the Spanish league authorities that the deal was going to the wire so they could potentially make provisions, while the LFP confirmed that they didn't receive the documents required to register De Gea despite the fact the TMS had allowed them to enter the details after the deadline. Madrid say they were reluctant to do so because of the uncertainty surrounding the Navas deal.

United claim that the FA have offered to back up their statement and that they have 'timestamped documents' showing they held up their end of the bargain.

Did Manchester United deliberately hold up the deal? Did Madrid just leave it too late? We'll probably never know. But what we do know is that the process both had to follow may be well-meaning but is somewhat inadequate, even if it's difficult to point the finger at FIFA for that. There's a first for everything.

FIFA first attempted to clean up the transfer process in 2008 with the introduction of the Transfer Matching System which would replace the old, timely and ineffective International Transfer Certificate process which potentially took weeks to complete. The goal was to ensure transparency, obtain more information and establish a database on transfers of players. 

From 2010 onwards, clubs who wished to complete international transfers (domestic deals are still governed by their respective leagues, although the Dutch FA have signed up to use a version of TMS) had to independently register details of the transfer into the system if they wanted the deal to be processed. If the details - everything from fee to contracts and agent cuts - match up then it goes ahead. If not, it's rejected.

Video: How FIFA's TMS system works

Mark Goddard, general manager of FIFA’s Transfer Matching System told ESPN earlier this year: ‘[Clubs] have to provide compulsory data, upload mandatory documents and declare all payments involved in a transfer. If all parties are organised, it takes between seven and 10 minutes.’

Both clubs need to be organised and on the same page and for the large part they are. Premier League clubs spent £859.25 million on transfers, with 326 new players moving including loans across the window, both domestically and internationally. 

However there is undeniably a band of owners and chairmen who enjoy the brinkmanship of the transfer window - which has its own pros and cons - and that's where problems start to emerge. The transfer market is a wild west at the best of times and the added layer of media intrigue only adds to the chaos. The introduction of the window in 2003 added another element for the deal-makers to test their mettle against which ultimately led to the situation that De Gea is now facing.

Tapping up, third party ownership, inconspicuous meetings and intermediaries initiating deals all muddy the waters when it comes to FIFA's goals of transfer transparency. As Gab Marcotti also points out in his article for ESPN, the numbers on the database may be accurate when it comes to representing the amount of money that changes hands - but not necessarily who it goes to. Harking back to the old days, an agent may choose to share some of the fee he is owed with a manager in order to make sure his client gets the move. An illegal practice, but one that isn't unheard of.

Bargaining Power

Every club is trying to get the upper hand when it comes to transfers and that leads to problems. West Brom were left infuriated by what they described as attempts by Tottenham to unsettle Saido Berahino before failing with a late move in the most recent window, while Everton effectively accused Chelsea of tapping up John Stones.

Perhaps the finest story of the genre goes to Arsenal's pursuit of Chu Young Park in 2011. Lille believed they had a deal wrapped up for the South Korean only to get word that he had crept out of a hotel paid for by the French club to complete a deal with Arsenal. Representatives from Lille are said to have chased him to the airport but it was too late.

The danger is that the bottom line, the money, is at least part transparent but the precess that leads to it, as De Gea found out to his cost, isn't. The laws remain open to interpretation, facts are twisted into PR and the players are stuck in a tug of war. The matter was made even more difficult to get under control when, in April, Fifa's global licensing system for agents was ended. Countries now independently monitor agents and for the sum of £500 a person could register as an 'intermediary' with the FA. Beforehand only 25-35% of deals went through a licensed agent and while that number will shoot up, the fact that almost anyone can register means the term 'licensed' is rendered almost obsolete and regulating transfers becomes more difficult.

The information in the Transfer Matching System isn't made public either so isn't subject to close examination to keep those using it in check - although FIFA use it for their own purposes to detect fraudulent activity such as money laundering.

The problem also remains that domestically it's not being used, although the FA could be set to follow the Dutch by adopting it as the system for all transfers within the league. "The Dutch FA went live late last year and has been using it successfully since. We have a number of other member associations who also are extremely interested after seeing the successful implementation of TMS," Goddard told The Telegraph earlier this year.

"We've had discussions with the FA - with some mixed results - but we're still in talks. We'd like them to take it, that's for sure, we'll have to see how that goes."

Lucky Break

De Gea is one of the lucky ones; he is a player in demand with the biggest club in the world set to hand him a sizeable contract to play in front of when his current deal expires next year. Not every player gets the same sort of treatment and can be shipped out at a moment's notice. Navas was reportedly 'resigned' to being part of the De Gea deal and was uprooting his family to England, only to be told the deal didn't go through after all. 

Goddard hinted at the troubles facing FIFA when it comes to unifying domestic leagues into one system to ensure transparency when discussing the FA's potential opt in to the TMS. He described talks as 'complex' and admitted it would be a challenge to get 'all the moving parts' aligned in order to get the system implemented. Now imagine that process repeated across all 209 of FIFA's member associations and you get an idea of the scale of the problem.

There is a little hope on the horizon in the form of GPX, the Global Player Exchange which is currently being developed by FIFA that is meant to launch this year; a platform which allows clubs to communicate and execute deals in one place. Whether it spells the end of the types of saga witnessed over the past week or so is unlikely; for all the technological advancements in the game football remains dominated by alpha-males in the boardroom with a 'win by any means' mentality. Regulation is required and it's a step in the right direction, but there's a long way to go before the dirty business of football transfers is cleaned up.

What regulations would you enforce to clean up the transfer market?

David De Gea
Real Madrid
Premier League
Manchester United

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