Once upon a time in the land of football….
The scene is a five star hotel of a Brazilian capital on the eve of the penultimate round of the Brazilian Championship of 2009. The elevator door opens. Wearing slippers and the training uniform of a Brazilian Serie A club, a player walks into the hall. A stranger waves to him.
They both discreetly greet each other and walk to the lobby bar. Instead of a cold beer or soft drink, what they ask for is privacy. Ah well, maybe hot coffee without sugar and then straight to the point, "Where it is?" the player asks.
"Here," the intermediate informs, opening the zipper of a small rucksack.
The contents are met with a look of approval. Five minutes later the player goes back towards his room empty-handed but with a head full of ideas.
He needs to inform his teammates that a draw on the following day is really worth it. A draw is now worth $7K to each player. Their team is mid-table not in the running for the Libertadores and not in any danger of relegation. A deal is made and the “white suitcase” presented.
A Brazilian football myth or a reality?—much is said in secret, little on the surface. "The suitcase man," however, is far from being a fictional personality. Some managers deny it outright, others break off the conversation—almost all look to the side when asked about it.
The players tend to talk much more. Luan, of the Palmeiras, says that the white suitcase is a reality, and many times the negotiation is carried out between players. William of Corinthians, in turn, considers it normal, like a bonus.
Last year, Val Baiano and Renê of Barueri (now, Gremio Prudente) were both sacked for having said that the team received a white suitcase to face the Flamengo—Barueri won that game 2 nil.
But, who is the “white suitcase man” and how does it all work?
GLOBOESPORTE.COM talked with two “white suitcase men” who worked in the 2009 Brazilian Championship. Both had asked not to have their identities revealed for obvious reasons.
"With less than R$ 50K (around $30K) you can’t even start a discussion. It is a man to man agreement. Everything is based on trust and done directly with the players. Generally one of the leaders.
"The world of the soccer is small. There’s always some player who knows the people of the club interested in paying the suitcase and this player is the best way to make it work.
"It is illusion to think that the white suitcase does not exist. Do you think that Goiás played normally versus Flamengo and São Paulo in 2009? If they played that way in all their games they would be champions.
"Most of the time, the money comes in plastic bag. The procedure is simple. The emissary travels to the city where the teams is and goes directly to the hotel. Normally this happens on the day of the game or the eve. Nothing is done by telephone. The negotiation is fast, does not last more than ten minutes or so.
"The money is always cash and in Brazilian Real currency. It is too risky to carry large amounts through airports so money transfers and withdrawals are made in the city concerned through accounts of seemingly unrelated people
"Nothing is paid before the game, but the money is shown to the player. During the game the emissary goes to the stadium and is in direct contact with his director by telephone to inform the score. After the game the payment is made in the agreed place usually the hotel.
"The emissary receives a gratuity of a couple of thousand dollars and all expenses for his work.
"An exact price list does not exist but it goes from $90K to average $180K.
"The player usually accept it as a bonus.
"A team could receive up to three white suitcases for one key match of interest to many other clubs.
"There are teams which made up to half a million dollars in “white suitcases”. Not bad as extra cash for the players right?
"Even the people in charge of massages and the uniform people get a piece of the action, this I know but I cannot be sure if the coaches get part."
What About “Black Suitcases?”
"Players have ethics and also great fear of scandals so I must tell you that the 'black suitcase' does not exist.
"Players do not throw games for money. This is nothing but a myth."
Interview one ends.
"The negotiation is fast because the subject is an uncomfortable one.
"The white suitcase is the plague of all championship leagues. Every league has this but the black suitcase is nothing but a legend. This does not exist.
"When the payment is not made on the day, the player receives calls saying that they are 'still making the kits'. This is the code.
"Negotiating is fast cause nobody wants to be lingering on something like this, so politically incorrect.
"In the first contact an intermediary or actual club director calls and says: 'I want to speak to you.' The meeting happens in the hotel or the training camp at breakfast etc. A fast thing—'I’m going to pay you so much and I need a draw.' The player then confirms: 'All’s good' and it is done.
"Nobody wants a lot of talk or negotiation.
"It is also never good to deal with talkative players for obvious reasons. The Bahian Val, for example, is forever burnt. Nobody will ever deal with him again.
"Players who can be trusted and are paid sometimes reveal to the others the fact in a coded way during training. An example would be screaming something like “the pie has cream on top this weekend” to indicate that the weekend match is a must win for a bonus.
"Also it is important to trace the profile of the player who is to be boarded. It has to be a leader of the group and it cannot be evangelic person. The evangelic Christians get terrified. They might run around the hotel screaming and stuff. (laughs)
"It does not happen only in the Brazilian league. In the group stages of international competitions it also happens and is actually cheaper. First because our currency is very strong and secondly because you only need to pay three or five players.
"In Brazil you must however pay the entire team or else the player/negotiator shoots himself in the foot, as the information leaks out that some received and others did not.
"In clubs that have an 'owner' the money comes direct of the club account. In the others, the managers make the money up amongst themselves or ask businessmen for assistance, later to be repaid through ticket sales and championships.
"This all goes in the books as 'gratification fees.'
"Sometimes it does not work out as the team loses anyway. In this case the money goes back to the paying club and only the intermediate is paid his commission. I work on commission.
"Not all managers and club owners get directly involved but every club does it one way or the other.
"It’s financial doping of players.
"Sometimes there may be misunderstandings like in 2008 where a team was asked to obtain a certain result to help another classify for the Libertadores.
"The requested team did its part but the requesting team even so did not classify.
"No payment was made."
End of interview two.
Both of these statement/interviews clearly show how rife the Brazilian league and even the Libertadores is with corruption. They would both have us believe that this blatant match fixing or encouraging as they call it only works for draws and wins.
There is no “black suitcase,” they claim. They even have the nerve to include the word “ethics” in their negation of the same.
Is top level football honest?
With Europe flooded with Brazilian players brought up in this way and other declarations by one time coach Zico about halftime match fixing and gambling pressure while coaching in Russia and Turkey—everything seems to be thrown into doubt worldwide.
Years ago Brazilian magazine Placar did a feature on a referee scandal involving payments in the league and World Cup qualification. A referee came out and admitted his part.
He’s still a FIFA ref, by the way.
It seems to be all business as usual, in a sport which gets more and more unethical with every competition.
Unethical seems OK for FIFA …as long as it’s not Playstation football right?
In Europe over the years several match fixing scandals have also surfaced—too many to name in one article. Some even needing Interpol police intervention.
We fans are the ones made fools of in the end. We are left to question everything. Did your favourite club really come back from three down to win the championship or was it a golden suitcase that did the trick?
Did your favourite team in the World Cup really lose that match after dominating so much in the first half or was there a deal struck between some club players from both nations?
How do we know when it’s real or not? At the top level……is anything for real?