Here in the United States, the National Football League’s “Hypomatic 3000” machine works day and night to convince us that our brand of football is the most important contest in the world. But everywhere else, the people we call “soccer” fans know their game is what counts. Last year, a hundred million people watched the Super Bowl. But 3.5 billion people — over half the planet — watched the last FIFA World Cup. (Don’t even get us started on that silly abomination known as “Australian rules” football).
American football players make headlines on the field and off. Often, those off-field headlines involve criminal behavior, with O.J. Simpson and Aaron Hernandez leading that particular team. Soccer players make the crime blotter, too. But more and more often, they’re just looking to pay a little less tax on their sometimes-vastly-greater incomes.
Last week, Atlético Madrid striker Diego Costa pled guilty to failing to kick in €1.1 million in tax on payments for image rights dating back to 2014. Costa paid €500,000 to settle the case. In the judicial equivalent of a yellow card, authorities also gave him a six-month suspended sentence. Costa joins an All-Star team of Spanish soccer tax cheats, including Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo (the game’s first billion-dollar earner), Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, and Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.
Now, Spanish authorities are turning their eyes towards the agents who negotiate players’ contracts. In February, they indicted Abdilgafar Fali Ramadani for using “ghost transfers” to move players through second- and third-tier clubs in places like Cyprus to hide commissions. Agents then used shady companies to buy assets like vacation homes on Mallorca, as well as several yachts. (And really, what’s the point of having a house on Mallorca if you don’t have a yacht to show off, too?)
Meanwhile, next door in Portugal, in “Operation Offside,” 300 police and tax inspectors raided homes and offices of 47 suspects, including players, agents, lawyers, and club staff.
League bigwigs have gotten in on the action, too. In 2013, Chuck Blazer, the Falstaffian FIFA secretary with two apartments at Trump Tower (one for himself and one for his cats) pled guilty to failing to report income from bribes and kickbacks. IRS officials made the obvious pun, announcing “This is the World Cup of fraud, and today we are issuing FIFA a red card.” But really, the jokes just write themselves: “Corrupt soccer officials couldn’t keep hands off the cash”? How about “Prosecutors score GOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL against corruption”? (Sometimes we crack ourselves up.)
Can you even imagine the uproar if we discovered Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had taken bribes to deflate those footballs before that game against the Colts? And someone in Roger Goodell’s office had hidden the cash he took to look the other way? And Brady’s agent had shuffled his contract through a semi-pro team like Cincinnati to hide commissions on the way to signing him in Tampa Bay? (Actually, given everything else we’ve seen in 2020, we shouldn’t rule it out. At least it would distract us from the coronavirus, the murder hornets, and the upcoming election.)
As always, you shouldn’t have to risk getting ejected from the game — or even fake an agonizing injury — to pay less tax. Just let us play goalkeeper for your finances. We’ll use our hands, our feet, and especially our heads to keep the IRS out of your net!