What’s a Soccer Player Worth? Italy’s Regulators Are Asking.

“Identifying the fair value for the performance of a professional athlete is notoriously a difficult task and not supported by an adequate level of scientific evidence,” Boccardelli wrote in his letter. In essence, he was saying what others have said: The values that go onto club balance sheets are often fake.

“We can say in a lot of cases it is a sort of fiction,” said Pippo Russo, the author of a book about the transfer market who investigated and highlighted several curious trades involving Italian teams, including some of those now being flagged by the regulators. “They need to do this because they need to have annual accounts in order.”

Russo said that while “Italy has the copyright” on the plusvalenza system, he has seen the practice exported across the European soccer landscape, highlighting deals involving teams in Spain, France and recently Portugal, where two top division teams swapped two young players with hardly any experience, but only after valuing them at millions of euros apiece.

The involvement of Consob, the Italian financial regulator, is notable then, since its interest in the dealings of Juventus, a listed company, could carry serious consequences if the club is found to have broken the law. The soccer prosecutor’s powers are limited to sporting penalties, like points deductions and in some cases even demotion.

In 2018, for example, an investigation discovered Chievo Verona had for years engaged in a scheme in which it inflated the value of youth players traded with another club, Cesena. The deals, worth millions of euros in total, allowed each team to meet registration requirements to obtain licenses to play in the professional leagues.

Yet while Chievo was punished, some team owners in Italy have expressed frustration that rules are often changed or not enforced to protect the most successful clubs. Last season’s champion, Inter Milan, for example, secured its first title in 11 years even though it was unable to meet its payroll. The league, citing the coronavirus pandemic, had relaxed its regulation on wage payments halfway through the season.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.

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