The recent transfer of Argentina starlet Carlos Tevez from Boca Juniors to Brazilian side Corinthians received precious little coverage in England. These days, if a story does involve a war of words between Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, the British media is not interested. Yet the Tevez deal was one of the most important developments in the transfer market since the Bosman ruling a decade ago.
That Boca Juniors should instead sell Tevez to a Brazilian side was extraordinary. That the Brazilian side in question was Corinthians, deep in debt and without success in recent years, was even more extraordinary still.
Corinthians were able to sign Tevez for £11.5milion, a record deal between South American clubs, thanks to an unprecedented investment from a mysterious London-based company called Media Sports Investments (MSI). Little is known about MSI, suffice to say that they are fronted by Kia Joorabchian, an Iranian who holds a series of directorships in the UK, including a car business named Medway Motors.
Joorabchian has no previous connection with football, though he once did business with Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, the former partner of Roman Abramovich.
Joorabchian refuses to reveal the identity of MSI's backers, though given the sums of money involved, it appears that the company is being backed by an Abramovich-style investor. For his part Abramovich's people deny their man is behind MSI. However, many people in South America suspect otherwise. Late last year, Abramovich's yacht was seen in Buenos Aires harbour.
Sources in South America have told World Soccer of meetings between Chelsea officials and their counterparts at Boca and River Plate. Abramovich's spin doctor suggested to World Soccer that the yacht might have been there for re-fuelling en route for another destination. But if that was the case, why book a mooring for 20 nights?
The growing suspicion in South America is that Abramovich is trying to build a global network of satellite clubs where he can "park" players before moving them on to Chelsea at a time convenient to Chelsea rather than the original selling club.
The links with Abramovich seem to be springing up all over the place.
Recently Feyenoord president Jorien Van den Herik revealed that Abramovich had tried to invest in the Dutch club. Abramovich already has well-publicised links with CSKA Moscow, who are sponsored by Abramovich's oil company Sibneft to the tune of £30million. Recently Czech midfielder Jiri Jirosik moved to Chelsea from CSKA, though he seemed unsure whether the deal was permanent or just a temporary loan. He also revealed that CSKA players regularly joke that CSKA is Chelsea's reserve side.
Porto, another club with close links to Chelsea, recently sold Brazilian forward Carlos Alberto to Corinthians, who in turn have been in negotiations to buy the much-coveted Brazilian striker Wagner Love from…CSKA.
Abramovich is still refusing to speak to the media about Chelsea and his football interests, though his spin doctor has been at pains to stress that there is no link between Abramovich and MSI. However all the circumstantial evidence appears to suggest that the globe-trotting billionaire has been a very busy boy recently.
Meanwhile, the silence from football's authorities has been defeaning. UEFA
investigated CSKA and Chelsea and found no evidence that Abramovich is the owner of both clubs. But given that their investigation amounted to little more than a few phone calls asking CSKA if Abramovich was their owner, that is hardly surprising.
Over the coming years we are going to see increasing moves from Europe's richest clubs to buy up clubs in South America and other continents. Chelsea, it appears, are leading the way with this new imperialism. By doing so, they are trying to control the global transfer market, allowing them to sign whoever they want, whenever they want.
The indifference of the game's authorities to these developments suggests that Chelsea and Roman Abramovich will take some stopping.