Selling footballers to investors a form of slavery, FA says

As more teams resort to the tactic of transferring player rights to private investors, the football association warns a ban may be on the way

When Mads Albæk, was browsing through some sports news just after Christmas, the 22-year-old footballer stumbled across some disturbing news … about himself.

Albæk, a promising midfielder who has played 127 senior matches for the Superliga club FC Midtjylland since his debut in 2008, read that he, and six other of the club’s players, had had their transfer rights sold to a group of investors in order to stave off financial ruin. No one had bothered to ask if Albæk was interested.

“It’s quite unpleasant to be sold from one day to the next without being informed about it at all. Honestly, I feel like a commodity in a supermarket,” Albæk told Politiken newspaper. “I don’t know where I stand and I have no idea whether it is the club or the investors that decide whether I am to be sold if an offer comes.”

In addition to FCM, Superliga clubs AGF, AaB, Esbjerg, Silkeborg, Brøndby, Viborg and HB Køge have all had players owned by third-party investors. 

Dansk Boldspil Union (DBU), the Danish football association, likened the manoeuvre to slavery and said it is looking into banning third-party ownership in Denmark, as is the case in the UK and France.

“At a minimum, we must develop clear and restrictive rules that shed light on how these contracts are put together,” Allan Hansen, the head of DBU, told Politiken.

Player union Spillerforeningen was up in arms over the revelations.

“The players, in worst-case scenarios, could easily end up in the clutches of people that they normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole,” Thomas Lindrup, a former footballer and head of Spillerforeningen, told Politiken. Lindrup also indicated that Spillerforeningen would discuss the issue in depth during their next meeting sometime in January.

In Albæk’s case, the investor group deal means that his new unknown owners have secured a 75 percent stake in all future income that his sale may bring. It also means that FCM won’t have to sell their players cheaply to avoid bankruptcy.

FCM has readily used the third-party investor schemes to raise the required funds to stave off bankruptcy. The transfer rights of more than ten of their current most promising talents have been sold to investors, garnering them nearly 30 million kroner.

Despite the criticism, Claus Steinlein, FCM’s sporting director, argued that selling transfer rights to investors did not affect whether the club would sell players overseas and the Albæk issue occurred because the club was unable to contact the players because the deals were secured during the Christmas holiday period.

“I can understand why people on the outside wonder about these deals, but we’ve been struggling financially for a while now and these investors have helped a lot,” Steinlein told Politiken.

In addition to Albæk, FCM has sold Santiago Villafane, Petter Andersson, Marco Larsen, Pione Sisto, Mads Pedersen and Erik Sviatchenko to the investor group. FCM has also adjusted its profits from a significant loss to a profit of three million kroner.