On 7 March 2014, splashed across the Croatian press was news about a local young goalkeeper who was about to join London giants Chelsea FC. And the hook for the story? He wasn’t yet a teenager.
“Karlo Žiger, 12 year-old goalkeeper of NK Zagreb joins Chelsea Academy” was published in three outlets of the mainstream media.
Two of the publications added: “Accompanied by his father Darko Žiger, he has signed a contract until 2022.” An online portal about the Croatian national football team, which is partner of the Croatian Football Federation, published the same news. Even the Chelsea Youth Team posted on Facebook that the Chelsea Academy had signed the Croatian goalkeeper a week earlier, on 28 February 2014.
But Football Leaks documents obtained by Der Spiegel and shared with Nacional and other partners in European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) show that Chelsea actually bought this pre-teen player through payments to his family, and thus violated FIFA, the Football Association and the Premier League regulations on the protection of minors.
Karlo Žiger is a member of Chelsea’s under-19 side today. From January till May 2019 he has been on loan to Sutton United which plays in the 5th tier of the English football league.
Chelsea was sanctioned by FIFA for breaches relating to the international transfer and registration of 29 players under the age of 18 in February 2019 with a transfer ban for one year and a fine of 600.000 Swiss Francs. Also The Football Association has been fined with 510,000 Swiss Francs and was given six months to address the situation concerning the international transfer and first registration of minors in football in England.
Football Leaks documents show Karlo Žiger was among 29 Chelsea minors cases who were part of the latest FIFA investigation. FIFA did not confirm or deny this.
However, Nacional’s investigation shows the much deeper dimensions of Chelsea’s systematic and covert breaches of FIFA, the Football Association and the Premier League regulations on protection of minors, where the club has been promising and paying significant sums to families of young players. And in Žiger’s case his family moved from Croatia to London for reasons which are linked exclusively to football, a move forbidden by FIFA rules.
According to a secret “agreement relating to the future transfer of Karlo Žiger” analyzed by Nacional, a sum intended for a young goalkeeper and his family, signed in 2014 when he was only 12 years old, reached 808,000 pounds, without bonuses and other costs. A sum of 120,000 pounds shall be paid to the family by Chelsea before the player would reach 16 years of age. The seven-year contractual relationship with Chelsea would expire on 30 June 2021, when he will be 20 years old. This pre-agreement included three years of a professional contract from 1 July 2018 till end of June 2021.
This appears to be a clear breach of the Football Association and the Premier League Youth Development Rules, which prohibit any payments or promises of payments to minors or their parents. Football Leaks documents reveal similar Chelsea’s breaches among other young players of the Chelsea Academy.
Regulations forbid any kind of payments to families of young players
FIFA’s Regulations on the status and transfers of players in Article 19, which is binding for all national football associations, clearly defines the protection of minors: “International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18,” its first paragraph says.
The only exceptions, added in the next paragraphs, are: if a) the parents of the player moved to the new country for reasons not linked to football; b) the player is aged between 16 and 18 and is moving within the territory of the EU/EEA; c) both the player’s domicile and the new club are within 50km of their common borders and the distance between the two is under 100km; d) the player has lived continuously for at least the last five years in the country of intended first registration prior to the request (‘five years rule’).
There are some additional very limited exceptions for unaccompanied refugee players and exchange student players.
However, all these exceptions must receive the approval of a special FIFA Sub-Committee of the Player’s Status Committee in charge of approving every international transfer and the first registration of foreign minor players.
Additionally, Article 18 of the same regulations among others says that “a player under the age of 18 may not sign a professional contract for a term longer than three years. Any clause referring to a longer period shall not be recognized.”
In the case of the secret agreement between Chelsea and the family of the young Croatian, the professional contract should come into force on 1 July 2018, and would remain in effect until 30 June 2021, of three years in length. However, the seven-year long contractual relationship between Chelsea and the young player and his family started in February 2014, when the secret agreement between Chelsea and a 12 year old kid and his father as a legal guardian was signed.
The Croatian goalkeeper, who is now 17, received the transfer approval of the FIFA special Sub-Committee for the transfer of minors on 29 August 2017, a few months after he reached 16, thus fulfilling the legal exception which allows a transfer when a player is 16 years old and from Europe. However, his family moved to London in 2014 for a reasons linked exclusively to football, which is supported by many evidence and what appears to be a breach of FIFA regulations.
Chelsea put many efforts to make all the FIFA paperwork correct, but it appears they also systematically hid a fact that the Žiger family moved to London. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts of his agent Vincenzo Cavaliere and the Žiger family member confirm they lived in London since February 2014. This is supported also by an interview his father gave to the Croatian media. Additionally, Karlo Žiger remained unregistered with any football club between 2014 and 2017, and he was not active on any social media platforms. Karlo Žiger and Chelsea did not respond to questions on whether Chelsea discouraged him to use any such platforms.
Everything on paper looks like he was transferred from Croatia to London in 2017 in a regular way and in accordance with FIFA rules, when in reality he was training and playing friendly matches as an unregistered player at the Chelsea Academy since 2014.
Chelsea also clearly breached The Football Association and The Premier League Youth Development Rules. Its article 267.1 [2012/13 version, same rules are valid in later years under different article numbers] says: “No Club shall induce or attempt to induce a player to become registered as an Academy Player by that Club by offering him, or any person connected with him, either directly or indirectly, a benefit or payment of any description whether in cash or in kind.”
The next article 267.2 defines: “No Club shall likewise induce or attempt to induce an Academy Player to enter into a Scholarship Agreement and in particular no Club shall pay or offer to pay to an Academy Player upon his entering into a Scholarship Agreement remuneration in excess of the remuneration referred to in Rule 253.1 [entitled to receive such remuneration as shall be determined by the Board from time to time]” And article 267.3: “No Academy Player shall, either directly or indirectly, accept any such inducement.”
“Everything is now subordinated to Karlo”
Soon after signing the secret contract worth 808,000 pounds in February 2014, his family, including his younger brother, who is also a goalkeeper, moved to the suburbs of London, with Chelsea paying them 2,300 pounds monthly rent for a house, and his father becoming a Chelsea employee, according to our information. The father and Chelsea did not respond to questions about his employment.
In December 2014, half a year after signing the contract, the father Darko Žiger explained in an interview with Croatian newspaper Večernji list, how he and his family started collaborating with Chelsea.
According to his account, Karlo Žiger was noticed by Chelsea scouts in summer 2013, and they immediately suggested him visiting London to pass additional checks.
“They invited us for one week first. They were most impressed by Karlo’s mental strength as well as physical capabilities. In February this year  we moved completely to London,” Darko Žiger explained. “In Chelsea they believe they bought one of the most talented kids in Europe of that age. They are fascinated by his progress in just a few months, when he was named the best goalkeeper at tournaments in Italy, Turkey and England. He is generally one of the youngest kids Chelsea has selected. Their practice is to select boys when they are 14 years old, and Karlo went there with less than 13 years. […] I was frightened at the beginning. I was thinking whether this was a smart decision. But now I am convinced that we have done the right thing. Our life has changed completely. Everything is now subordinated to Karlo. But I believe in his capacities and I am confident that he is in the right hands. Chelsea organized his schooling because they thought education is the most important thing. There is no imperative to become a Chelsea star. It is important for them to be formed as a person,” Darko Žiger said in December 2014.
Football Leaks documents show young Croat received UK residence in August 2014. However, documents filed by Chelsea to the FIFA sub-committee for approval of his minors transfer few months after he reached 16 years in July 2017, and was thus eligible for exception of transfer of minors, reveal his Zagreb address was used in his scholarship contract with Chelsea. The club filed also an accommodation care letter in 2017, officially confirming he resides with his host family in Cobham, which appears to be a false statement as he actually lived with parents in London. It all looked as though Žiger had moved from Zagreb directly to London after his 16th birthday, when he had been training at the Chelsea Academy for years.
DOC 13 - Ziger residence permit August 2014
DOC 5 - Accomodation care letter 3 July 2017 page 1 but he lived with parents
But for these three years he was not officially registered with any football club. He played his last match with his former club NK Zagreb on 28 September 2013, according to the International Transfer Certificate (ITC) request sent by Chelsea to The Football Association. NK Zagreb claimed in email sent to Chelsea in May 2018, he played last official match with the club even earlier, on 8 June 2013.
The Croatian Football Federation confirmed to Nacional that he was registered for NK Zagreb between 27 August 2008 and 24 February 2014. Later he was not registered with any other Croatian club.
Nevertheless, as FIFA rules request that the national federation where a player was last registered shall issue an International Transfer Certificate, the Croatian Football Federation issued one for Karlo Žiger to The Football Association on 30 August 2017, more than three years after he was last registered with any Croatian club.
“You may check with Chelsea if the player was there while not registered,” the Croatian Football Federation responded to our question on where he was registered between February 2014 and August 2017.
120,000 pounds for family before player reached 16 years
But what was actually written inside the secret agreement signed between one of the UK’s major football club Chelsea and the 12 year-old kid from Croatia and his parents?
Only unsigned draft of “Agreement relating to the future transfer of Karlo Žiger” is available in the Football Leaks documentation, but its authenticity has been confirmed by many other documents, emails, media publications and de-registration of a player from NK Zagreb in February 2014. All these circumstantial evidences and later events which happened exactly as defined in secret agreement confirm that the contract was really signed between Chelsea Football Club Limited and a young player, and co-signed by his legal guardian and father Darko Žiger.
DOC 1 - Ziger Player Club Agreement (13 February 2014) Page 1
The name of the word document is “Ziger Player Club Agreement (13 February 2014)”. It is highly possible it was signed on between this specific date, when his agent Vincenzo Cavaliere visited Chelsea and the end of February. Agent’s public posts on Twitter reveal he traveled to London between 11th and 13th February 2014 and visited Chelsea on 12th February 2014. Cavaliere declined to answer questions about reason of his travel to London.
The clause F of the preamble of the contract says the following: “Chelsea and the Player have agreed that Chelsea shall be granted the right to require the Player to enter into the following agreements: (i) a standard form FAPL [Football Association Premier League] Scholarship Agreement for the period from 1 July 2017 […] until 30 June 2019 (the “Chelsea Scholarship Agreement”); and (ii) a standard form FAPL playing contract for the period 1 July 2018 until 30 June 2021, […] (the “Chelsea Playing Contract”).”
“This document is intended to set out the Player’s agreement to enter into such agreements, the issuance of his International Transfer Certificate (“ITC”) to Chelsea, and his agreement to and acknowledgment of the terms of this Agreement and its accompanying Schedule,” continues clause G of preamble to this agreement.
The agreement signed in 2014 would be valid from the date of signing until the issuance of the International Transfer Certificate to Chelsea on a permanent basis or until 2 September 2018.
As revealed above the professional contract shall come into force in July 2018, what really happened last year, and therefore the contractual relationship was extended till 2021 as planned. The secret agreement additionally defines that the International Transfer Certificate should not be issued only to Chelsea, but also to “such other club as Chelsea shall direct”, what shows that the London club controlled the future football career of young Croat for a hefty sum, which was promised to parents before he reached 18 years.
“In consideration for the payment by Chelsea to the Player of £120,000 (the “Payment”), Chelsea’s advice and assistance on the Player’s training and development prior to the issuance to Chelsea of the Player’s ITC and the other covenants set out in this Agreement […], the Player agrees to, upon written request from Chelsea, enter into the Chelsea Scholarship Agreement and the Chelsea Playing Contract and perform the other terms of this Agreement,” the contract continues.
This sum of 120,000 pounds shall be paid in three installments of 40,000 pounds on 1 January in 2015, 2016 and 2017, all three dates are earlier than when a young player reached 16 years of age.
DOC 2 - Ziger Player Club Agreement (13 February 2014) Page 3
For this sum his family agreed to all the conditions of this contract, including that he will remain registered with Croatian Football Federation continuously until such point as Chelsea requires that he is transferred in 2017, that the Croatian Football Federation shall issue an International Transfer Certificate and that former club NK Zagreb shall release him without any payment, delay or training compensation.
On 17 May 2018 the NK Zagreb chief secretary contacted Chelsea for solidarity contribution and on 29 May 2018 for training compensation payments. “Dear Sir, can you explain to us why we don’t have any payments for training compensation for player Karlo Žiger, the player had 12 years and one month when he went to your club. The last game for NK Zagreb was on 8th June 2013”, then secretary of Croatian club wrote. Chelsea internal communication about this issue, exchanged in following months, reveal they might evade any payments to Croatian club. “I have e-mailed Mr Brkic to inform him that, once the player has signed a professional contract with ourselves, I shall contact them about a potential claim for training compensation. The previous correspondence was related to a solidarity claim, for which there was nothing owed,” one clerk of Chelsea wrote afterwards. Both Chelsea and NK Zagreb did not answer to questions if any solidarity contribution or training compensation has been paid.
Clause 3.2 of the secret pre-agreement further reveals Chelsea ensured guarantees that it will look as though everything is the free will of Žiger. “Nothing set out in this Agreement shall require Chelsea to require the Player to enter into the Chelsea Scholarship Agreement or the Chelsea Playing Contract or take steps to arrange for the issuance of his ITC.”
According to the contract he needs also, prior to the execution of the Chelsea Scholarship Agreement, to “attend for such periods of trial or take part in training or friendly matches as Chelsea may request […] as well as undertake medical examination.” Additionally, Chelsea insured young unregistered Croat for 100,000 pounds annually.
Schedule 1 of the secret agreement outlines the financial part of the promised Scholarship and professional contract.
From 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2019 he was eligible to receive 125 pounds per week of scholarship or 13,000 pounds in these two years.
Since 1 July 2018, the professional contract was planned. In the first year he was eligible to 150,000 pounds annually till 30 June 2019. In the second year, till June 2020, the salary was increased to 175,000 pounds and in the last season, till 30 June 2021 to 200,000 pounds. During each of these three professional seasons, he was entitled to an additional 50,000 pounds of a signing-on fee annually or an additional 150,000 pounds. Therefore a planned professional contract amounts to 675,000 pounds over three seasons between 2018 and 2021.
DOC 3 - Ziger Player Club Agreement (13 February 2014) Page 10
With a 120,000 pounds prepayment and the 13,000 pounds scholarship overall sum of the secret agreement, signed with 12 year old and his parents, reaches 808,000 pounds, not including bonuses, educational and other costs paid by Chelsea, like rent for his family house in London.
Chelsea’s secrecy during minors transfers
Breaches of FIFA, The Football Association and the Premier League regulations on protection of minors were probably a reason why secrecy in Chelsea about this and other similar contracts with minors was needed.
Football Leaks documents show the first appearance of Karlo Žiger in an internal emails among the Chelsea legal department employees in October 2016. There was a discussion about the terms of the tenancy agreement for the Žiger family, valid from 31 January 2014 to 30 January 2015, with 2,300 pounds monthly rent, which has been prolonged.
DOC 14 Email Chelsea - tenancy agreement 2014
More emails appeared in June 2017, when the summer transfer window of that season neared, and the young Croat just turned 16 a month earlier and thus became eligible for an international transfer, with the permission of the special FIFA sub-committee for the transfer of minors.
In Chelsea they were collecting all the necessary documents for application to the Football Association and FIFA, but here the secret contract appeared.
On 20 May 2017 the Croatian agent Vincenzo Cavaliere, based in Zagreb, forwarded the unsigned draft of agreement between Chelsea and Žiger family to Jim Fraser, Chelsea’s Assistant Head of Youth Development, who sent it to other members of the Chelsea administration.
A month later, on 20 June 2017, one of Chelsea’s secretaries wrote the following: ”I need to start preparing Scholarship contracts and am looking for information please. Billy Gilmour: Do either of you have an agreement I can have access to? Daishawn Redan: As above. Karlo Ziger: Is the attached the only agreement we have as this copy isn’t signed?”
The unsigned “Ziger Player Club Agreement (13 February 2014)” analysed in this article was attached to this email.
Chelsea’s Director of Football Operations David Barnard clarified the situation in his reply sent the next day: “Hi Claire, Paperwork in the left hand cupboard of my desk (black key tab) in blue folder marked “Player Transactions”. Regards.”
Another discussion was about Žiger’s education, where FIFA found some discrepancies. But all these issues were settled soon. After Chelsea filed a new education programme for young Croat, who has 10.5 hours of educational classes weekly, beside many more hours of training every week, his application G-0001402 was approved by FIFA on 29 August 2017.
Therefore, he formally became a member of Chelsea and signed a Scholarship agreement as defined in the secret contract signed three and a half years earlier.
The Scholarship agreement signed on 1 July 2017, which has been filed by Chelsea to FIFA Transfer Matching System (TMS), brought him a stipend of 165 pounds per week in season 2017/18 and 175 pounds per week in season 2018/19, which is higher than 125 pounds weekly promised by the secret agreement. Also the professional contract, which he signed with Chelsea on 4 July 2018 for the next three seasons, probably has higher values as those signed in 2014.
Chelsea systematically paying families of talents before they are 18
Karlo Žiger is not an isolated case in Chelsea’s hunt on young football talents. Similar secret payments were agreed with other young talents and their parents from other European countries.
In 2017, for example, the family of then 16 year old Dutch player Daishawn Redan, who was transferred from Ajax, was entitled to receive 200,000 pounds in prepayment to guarantee that a player will sign a scholarship and professional agreements with Chelsea, according to a similar agreement signed on 18 May 2017.
DOC 9 - Pre-Agreement - Daishawn Redan (SIGNED) Page 2 - 200000 pounds payments
DOC 10 - Pre-Agreement - Daishawn Redan (SIGNED) Page 8 parents signatories - May 2017
The intermediary during Redan’s transfer, Barry Whelan from the sports agency Unique Sports Management Limited, seems to earn a lot during this transfer. As a club intermediary he is entitled to at least 218,800 pounds from Chelsea, but if Redan will play successfully in the future, his agent fee could reach almost one million pounds. FIFA regulations forbid any payments for intermediaries during the transfer of minors until the players reach 18 years. However, these rules were by-passed in an intelligent way – the first payment from Chelsea to the agent has been planned to be made exactly on the 18th birthday of young Dutch player. The agent Barry Whelan did not respond to our questions.
There is then a case of the 16 year-old Scottish player Billy Gilmour, whose family was entitled to 250,000 pounds, according to the “pre-agreement” signed in April 2017. Both Redan and Gilmour officially joined Chelsea in July 2017 like Žiger.
DOC 11 - Pre-Agreement - Billy Gilmour (SIGNED) Page 2 - 250000 payments
DOC - 12 - Pre-Agreement - Billy Gilmour (SIGNED) Page 8 - parents signatories - April 2017
Also a family of the French talent Naouirou Ahamada appeared to be entitled to 130,000 Euro from Chelsea according to a similar but unsigned “agreement for future transfer” from 2015, when Ahamada was only 13 years old. However, the French talent joined Juventus U-17 in 2018.
In these additional Chelsea cases, the values of the future professional contracts are same or even higher than in Žiger’s contract, who should earn a minimum 675.000 pounds during his first three professional seasons.
These are only few cases which reveal how Chelsea is systematically breaching FIFA, The Football Association and the Premier League rules on the protection of minors by paying big amounts of money to the families of young talents before they reached 18 years of age. It is no surprise that in February 2018 Chelsea was sanctioned by FIFA Disciplinary Committee for breaches of regulations relating to protection of minors to two transfer periods or one year and a hefty fine. According to Football Leaks documents, FIFA is investigating Chelsea’s pre-agreements and pre-payments made directly to minors, but FIFA did not confirm or deny this.
FIFA spokesman responded only: “FIFA works hard to protect the rights of players younger than 18 – whether male or female, amateur or professional. This is primarily done through the enforcement of regulations prohibiting the international transfer of a minor, or the first registration of a minor in a country other than their own, except in specific and verifiable circumstances.”
Regarding disciplinary proceedings against Chelsea, the FIFA spokesman answered: “Since the case is pending we can’t comment further for the time being. Further details will be made available once the proceedings have concluded.”
“The FIFA Regulations do not provide for any age limit as of when a contract may be signed between a club and a player. However, they strive for avoidance of excessive binding of a minor player. As regards the contents of any possible such contract, applicable national legislation might also have to be taken into account,” he added.
The Football Association declined to comment and the Premier League responded: “It would be inappropriate for the Premier League to comment publicly on matters that could be subject to regulatory processes. The League has strong regulations in the areas of Academy player recruitment in addition to FA and FIFA rules. Should we receive any substantiated material that suggests our rules may have been breached, we will of course investigate and have a track record of doing so.”
The Croatian Football Federation answered: “The Player Karlo Žiger was registered with our affiliated club NK Zagreb in the period 27 August 2008 until 24 February 2014. In accordance to the relevant provisions of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, the Croatian Football Federation issued the International Transfer Certificate to the Football Association of England on 30 August 2017. We cannot comment nor interfere where the player in question was in the period after his registration for the Croatian club has ceased.”
Karlo Žiger and his father Darko Žiger did not respond to our questions, and the agent Vincenzo Cavaliere, former director of NK Zagreb, declined to comment. Also NK Zagreb, the former club, did not respond to our request.
Chelsea’s answer to many detailed questions was short: “We do not comment on speculation concerning confidential contracts or player related matters.”
Der Spiegel’s version of the same story is available here: