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The story of Lille owner Gérard Lopez’s attempt to own the next Gestifute

The following is a translation of an article by French outlets Mediapart and Mediacités relating to Lille owner Gérard Lopez’s attempts to set up a football agency called Kick Partners.

Football News takes no responsibility for the authenticity of the content.

In a interview with the Financial Times in the summer of 2012, then known as the owner of the Lotus Formula 1 Team, Gérard Lopez detailed his intention to invest €500m into football: “into companies that support and offer services to clubs and to buy clubs to make them profitable.”

The vehicle set-up for Lopez’s forays into football was titled Mangrove Founders, which the Luxembourg businessman owns 37.5% of, alongside an individual called Hans-Jürgen Schmitz and another company titled Fedalk Investing, born out of the British Virgin Islands.

Mediapart understand that an agency venture was funded by Mangrove Founders starting in May 2013, headed up by former Barcelona representative and current Lille General Manager Marc Ingla and career agent Rawad Kassis, known for managing the interests of Asamoah Gyan.

In a PowerPoint presentation uncovered by Médiacites, Kick Partners outlined their objectives including “becoming the leading global agency” which would be achieved by having: “20+ local subsidiaries covering the main football countries,” “5% to 10% market share of the global agency leading to €50m-€100m in net commissions for KP in the long run,” “over 20-30 agents federated” and “500+ players represented”.

The agency’s plan was to put down roots across Europe – negotiations were ongoing with several potential partner agents in the following countries: Great Britain, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Turkey, Luxembourg, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Australia, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and in West Africa.

Insertion in the Russian, Ukrainian, Portuguese and Belgian markets was noted down as a second phase priority for the 2013/14 campaign.

Inside the very same PowerPoint, an explanation for Kick Partners’ name: “That’s why we are called Kick Partners! The opportunity is BIG – we will kick ass!”

Thorsten Wirth, an agent at the Spielerrat group, was present for the presentation of the Kick Partners project and relayed the information to colleagues Daniel Delonga and Hannes Winzer on 6th December per Mediapart:

“The project: it is an investment fund that is putting in €500m and is looking to become, in the next two years, the market leader of football agency. They view football as a business and are already investing in clubs, youth academies, transfer rights and players. They also own Lotus, the F1 team… They are building a network of agencies in Brazil, Argentina, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Spain, Italy and also in Germany. Partners would become shareholders in Kick Partners.”

Wirth was so energised by the presentation that he compared Rawad Kassis, the lead agent in the proposal, to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

“He is 32 and has a finance background. He has worked for a long time as an agent and has been involved in several big deals. In this moment, he is doing business with funds… He does not want to speak pointlessly – he wants to do business and does it by remaining concentrated on his aim. A bit like Zuckerberg – a visionary, but also has hard as a rock when required.”

In France, Kick Partners sought to bring in Stéphane Courbis, the son of former Rennes and Montpellier manager Rolland Courbis and a key agent in the French football landscape, who is currently Laurent Koscielny and Steve Mandanda’s agent and who was also responsible for Robert Pirès and Emmanuel Adebayor during their careers.

Another PowerPoint document obtained by the European Investigative Collaboration details the Kick Partners’ business plan in France as developed on March 4th and 5th in 2014 in Barcelona. The intention was for the company to obtain €7.4m in profits in Year 5 in France alone.

After a meeting between partners in Barcelona, on the 12th March, Mediapart allege that Thorsten Wirth wrote an email to Marc Ingla and Rawad Kassis in which he detailed his hopes and fears for the project:

“I personally believe in the approach of a strong transnational network with partners who share the same ideas. I think that synergies will solidify the diversity of the group. However, I think that the level of professionalism and dedication to the project varies greatly amongst the stakeholders.”

By mid-2014, the agency began its attempts to deal: Spielerrat and Stéphane Courbis agree to work together to find destinations for Serge Aurier (Toulouse) and Lukasz Fabianski (Arsenal).

Fabianski, Spielerrat’s client, is the subject of a mandate from Courbis which enables the latter to attempt to place him at a club in France, and vice-versa for Aurier in Germany.

Spielerrat attempted to offer Aurier to Bayer Leverkusen – in an email, key agent Rawad Kassis laid out who will be earning what from the potential deal: “70% for Kick Partners, 30% for Spielerrat on the salary commission linked to the player, 50%/50% on the commission received from Toulouse on the transfer.”

But Leverkusen were not interested in Aurier and no French club wanted to sign Fabianski.

The Brazilian market especially interested Kick Partners, with the agency envisaging to make an annual profit of €6.65m in this particular territory by 2018. The reason why? The possibility to own players: “Investments into third party economic rights are very common and protected by local sports law,” indicated a piece of literature produced by the burgeoning agency.

Mangrove Founders, the umbrella company for Lopez’s football activities, had notably bought 12.5% of the rights of Gerson Santos da Silva and 30% of Alisson Farias. Both Brazilians were also listed in the Kick Partners roster.

The PowerPoint presentation seen by Mediapart explains the strategy: “To invest in the economic rights and in the agency of the player to control the moment of sale.”

In the winter of 2015, key agent Rawad Kassis appeared on CNN, clearly acting as Gerson’s agent: “Nothing has stopped for the moment, we are still in discussions… He is owned by a fund called Mangrove.”

A farce, as Kassis’ agency was also owned by Mangrove – a wonderful conflict of interests, especially because the agency would logically benefit from any profits made by Mangrove to the detriment of the career of this young Brazilian duo.

Another Brazilian, a 17-year-old Fluminense hopeful called Douglas, also appears in the PowerPoint presentation as seen by Mediapart – Mangrove owned the rights to the player and Kick Partners also represented him. The proof is in the below Tweet – Mark Tluszcz – so-called CEO of Mangrove, referred to the player in 2016 as his own.

This reality was confirmed in a 28th April 2019 email in which Raed Kassis, the brother of key agent Rawad Kassis, who was also an agent for Kick Partners, offers the young Brazilian midfielder to AS Monaco Vice President Vadim Vasilyev:

“Dear Vadim, first of all, thanks for your time on Tuesday and for the pleasure of meeting you. Following our conversation, see below the players that we want to offer to AS MONACO FC… Douglas Augusto: a central midfielder that our fund has invested in his economic rights. He is receiving call-ups for the U20 Brazil national team. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.”

On 19th December 2014, following an Executive Committee meeting, FIFA announced that Third Party Ownership (TPO) would be banned from 1st May 2015 onwards.

This was the first moment of derailment for the Kick Partners project, as the organisation intended to promote players acquired via TPO by a fund that held a stake in the agency itself.

This sea change forced Gérard Lopez and Marc Ingla to refocus their efforts on a strategy of purchasing clubs, leading to the acquisition of Lille in early 2017.

The death of key agent Rawad Kassis in autumn of 2015 further brought an end to the project. Gérard Lopez said in January 2017: “Kick Partners is no longer active.”

 


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