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Falcao, Atlético Madrid, third-party ownership and deferred dreams

A look at another side of the problem involving third-party ownership in football and Falcao's recent move to AS Monaco.

Angel Martinez

Dreams are a mysterious thing. Science tells us that everyone -- even other mammals -- dream, and these dreams occur during the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Dreams can range from just a few seconds to up to twenty minutes long. The odd dreams that occur out of REM are usually less vivid and memorable and when someone is awakened while dreaming in the REM phase, they are more likely to remember the dream.

In many ancient societies, dream analysis -- different from oneirology (the study of dreams) in that it deals with analyzing dreams rather than studying the process of dreaming -- rested on the belief that dreams were a form of divine intervention or supernatural communication. In modern times, there have been numerous attempts at explanations; dreams as portents of upcoming events for the superstitious, or dreams as a necessary, if interesting, cognitive process for the scientific. Carl Jung believed dreams to contain inescapable truths, illusions and memories.

The enigmatic poet/writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote:

O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Greek tragic dramatist Aeschylus told us that "men in exile feed on dreams of hope." Aristotle wrote that "Hope is a waking dream." John F. Kennedy believed that we need men who can dream of things that never were, as if he was one minds with George Bernard Shaw, who famously stated, "You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"

Martin Luther King had one major dream amongst his other smaller ones, John Updike believed that dreams must come true -- what other reason could nature have for giving them to us? Friedrich von Schiller thought we should keep faithful to the dreams of our youth and Anatole France wrote that "to accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe."

Parents everywhere encourage their children to dream big, no matter the restrictions of self and society. Dreams, both the night activity and their fantastic daytime equivalents, are a staple in our society, our history and our own self-realization.

Dreams play an important role in how we view and experience sports in general and football in specific. Most -- if not all -- of us have at some point dreamed that we could play football professionally. In our fantasies, we can score the winning goal in the Champions League for our favorite team. The ambitious can even close their eyes and score an injury-time winner to clinch the World Cup. Only a select few actually manage to accomplish the first part of this dream, becoming a professional. Even getting that far requires an incredible amount of work, dedication and innate talent. The supernatural forces behind dreams seem to forget to relay just how hard they are to realize.

From the fan perspective, we dream of the day our favorite teams might lift the title. Then it's the Champions League. Somewhere in there the League Cup is probably obligatory too. Of course, such dreams can be incredibly unrealistic. Your team might be languishing in the relegation zone. Or you could be an Arsenal fan.

Supporters dream about their team signing the best players, developing the most talented youngsters and their respective managers being hailed as one of a kind for their vision and ability. The fantastic aspects of football comprise the last remnants of romance in a game that's now dominated by greed and selfishness. It's what keeps us watching.

We love it when players describe joining our clubs as "a dream move" as Neymar has recently described his transfer to Barcelona. It -- against all evidence of the contrary -- leads the less cynical to believe that the player genuinely has love for the club and that the move is more than an opportunistic money-grab. Neymar did, of course, turn down the more money of Real Madrid for a chance to play with Messi, a fact that will undoubtedly be brought up over and over again in future Clasicos.

Even when a player's transfer isn't a 'dream move', his tenure at a club can eventually become a sweet dream for both player and fans. Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard's moves to AC Milan in 1987 were attributable to the ambition of Silvio Berlusconi rather than the desires of the players, but neither side nor the fans could deny the deliciousness of the eventual outcome. Even now, that side seems like a surreal memory, a footballing ghost rather than true history.

One situation that falls under the category of dream tenure rather than dream move is Radamel Falcao's stay at Atlético Madrid. Falcao was bought from Porto for €40 million with another potential €10 million coming from performance-based clauses -- making him the club's most expensive transfer ever -- after winning the league and Europa League with Porto. This transfer was particularly odd due to the fact that Atlético were poor and very much in debt, so of course, there was a deeper story.

The club's ambitions helped opened way for third party ownership. Since they could not afford the entirety of Falcao's price tag, Atlético Madrid made bedfellows of Doyen Sports Investments, a company that identifies itself as a private fund, dedicated to providing an alternative financial source for football clubs and football PLCs. Doyen agreed to pay for the fees that the club could not afford for Falcao and in exchange received 50 percent of the player's rights. This is important because it meant that Doyen was then entitled to a significant cut of the money from Falcao's subsequent transfer.

Seventy goals, a Copa del Rey title, another Europa League trophy, a UEFA Supercup and ninety appearances later, Falcao went on the move again. This time, however, there's a tornado of controversy swirling. Where in his previous transfer, Atletico went to Doyen to ask for financial help in acquiring a player, this time it seems that the third-party group has decided to sell the player to the highest bidder for profit --football's true mistress -- with minimal regard for the player's or the club's wishes.

To call the third-party organization wrong in this case is debatable, for the simple fact that any business should aim to profit from its operations. Morality and sympathy are often obstacles to this goal. And one can hardly blame Atlético Madrid for its part in all of this -- we know the dire financial straits that teams in La Liga not named Barcelona and Real Madrid find themselves in.

Somehow they have to challenge and remain relevant and without the money to do so, shadowy lines of communication begin to open and uneasy practices start to take place. Practices such as selling 50 percent of a player's rights to third party, effectively taking the player's life out of his own hands and making him a servant to their profit.

That's the simple fact of it, Doyen Sports Investment owns Falcao. They have shopped him around, using his past and present prowess to advertise his value, waiting for bids from numerous suitors and licking their lips at the amount of of cash placed before their eyes as the numbers pile up. And Falcao himself can have no say in what happens, because he effectively does not own his own person. Nor does the club he played for have a majority claim to him.

When a player is sold by the club, it's at least a contractual issue and still humane in the sense that the player knows about it and most of the time has discussed the issue with the manager and higher-ups. Many times, the player can ask for his own sale or release if he feels uncomfortable. All of this third-party ownership business though, has -- and please forgive the bluntness -- the feel of a modern day slave trade.

To his credit, UEFA boss Michel Platini has been vehemently against third-party ownerships of players. Earlier this year, he spoke out against it, claiming that "it is not human that people should belong to other people who sell them off." He has been strong in his assertion that FIFA must stamp out the practice, even going as far as to say that if FIFA refuses to act, UEFA will abolish the act in Europe themselves. The practice is already banned in England, France and Poland.

There has of course been plenty of talk from different sides on the wrongs and rights of Falcao's move to AS Monaco. Some lament it as more evidence that money alone rules the game, allowing AS Monaco's Russian billionaire president Dmitry Evgenevich Rybolovlev to flaunt his riches in the same way that Chelsea, PSG and Manchester City have done over the years. Some have blamed the player, saying that he moved to the tax-free Monaco for the money, rather than having the ambition of moving to a bigger club and showing his worth.

Others of course have said that this move is good for football, in the sense that it brings more attention to Ligue 1 and also challenges the current hierarchy of big clubs -- Monaco have also bought João Moutinho and James Rodriguez, for a combined €70 million plus wages. It presents the excitement of new possibilities in football and shows that sometimes, the big clubs don't get the best players, at least not this time.

These beliefs all have the same misguided notion that players, and in this case, Falcao, owe something to supporters. Whether the fans believe that Falcao should move to Barcelona or Manchester United, or that Falcao should enjoy his stay at AS Monaco for the chance to help a recently promoted team climb the rankings of European football, the narrative always relies on the belief that the player is here to serve as a proxy for the fans' own fantasies and ambitions. But many times -- most of the time -- a player's dream is contradictory to the dreams of the millions that watch him kick a ball for ninety minutes every few days, vicariously living out their own fantasies through the action on the pitch. It also relies on the opinion that the player had any choice in this transfer.

There has been nothing -- despite the constant media speculation about his future -- from the player or the club that has ever indicated that Falcao was not at peace at Atlético Madrid. He's won trophies for the club and has helped them qualify for the Champions League competition, and he's beloved by the Vicente Calderon faithful.

In his exit interview before moving to his new team, a clearly emotional Falcao described his stay at Atletico as the best two years of his career so far. Reminiscing on the successes of the team and on the verge of tears, he says to the interviewer that "What we have achieved in these two seasons has been the stuff of dreams and has been unforgettable for me."

For the first few minutes of the interview (which can be seen here), Falcao answers questions with a smile; beaming as he first talks about the David versus Goliath matchup against cross-town rivals Real in the Copa del Rey final, then the symbolic Neptune celebration that is unique to the club, adding that "Madrid when it's red and white looks more colorful and prettier."

As he begins to thank the club presidents and manager for bringing him in initially, when not everyone was convinced of his abilities, the powerful Colombian begins to tear up. By the time he gets to thank the fans, the man is visible torn inside, struggling to hold a strong face for the camera, realizing the reality. His dream is coming to an end.

The video is heartbreaking, the transfer is distasteful and the whole situation seems utterly unfair for a player who's suffering from the indiscretions of a struggling club. Because of the duopoly in Spain and their own debt, the mattress makers made a deal with the devil and sold a Falcao's rights for money and two years of fantasy. In turn, Doyen put the player on the auction block, eventually accepting the bid that resulted in the most profit for their people. Falcao was forced to wake up from his own dream to fulfill the desires and ambitions of others.

Who knows what the future holds after this? Maybe Falcao will succeed and learn to enjoy his stay -- Monaco is, of course, a beautiful place. Maybe FIFA will finally match actions to words and take a stance against third-party ownership. Or maybe Falcao will fail to click and waste away in Ligue 1, far from the memories of the casual fan. All of this can happen, none of it could happen. The only thing we've seen from this move so far is the heartbreak of a man living his dream only to be forcefully torn away from it.

As Kirby Larson once said "There should be fireworks, at least, when a dream dies." There are no fireworks here. Just cold, hard cash.