Sports

The scam that clouds the European soccer dream

By Carlos Garcia

Lisbon, Apr 30 (efe-epa).- Nicolás Celotti has always dreamt of being a footballer so when his agent said a Chicago businessman could organise a contract with a Portuguese club, he thought his European dream had finally come true.

So did another 20 Argentine young players, but this was not the beginning of a lifelong dream, it was a scam.

It all started in July 2019 with the start of the 2019-2020 football season.

Some 20 young Argentineans arrived at Oliveirense and Mirandés, both teams that play in la LigaPro, the second-highest division of the Portuguese football league.

The players arrived with a hand-signed contract with Sebastián Diericx, an Argentine businessman based in Chicago, for which they would receive a 750 euro monthly wage.

The contract stipulated the clubs would provide lodgings and food and that “the salary would be paid directly by the businessman.”

However, any excitement the players had struck gold soon vanished.

They have not been paid in 9 months and cannot look for work due to the economic crisis the pandemic has caused.

What is more, they do not have the funds to return to Argentina.

In an interview with Efe, Celotti described the nightmare the players now face and said they were surviving thanks to the food donations of generous people who feed them daily.

In July, a dozen Argentinians arrived at Mirandés. Four of them decided to pack their bags and return home at the end of the year after not being paid.

Another four seniors and two juniors arrived at Oliveirense in the same month to kick off the League.

Celotti had to wait until January to start playing for Oliveirense while he finished his training as a sports journalist.

According to the 22-year-old, the scam was obvious as soon as he arrived as the footballers could not play with Mirandés for the first six months because the businessman had not provided the money to process the transfers.

To make matters worse, the financial situation of Oliveirense, in the northern city of Santa Maria de Oliviera, was very complicated and the club filed for bankruptcy in January 2020.

When Celotti arrived at the club in January, he asked his agent Andrés Veloso to find another club for him and he was transferred to Mirandés, where there were another 11 Argentine players on the roster.

The players that remained at Oliveirense never took to the pitch and are now scattered across several flats in northern Portugal where “they have no food, water and receive the help of neighbours.”

Among the players who arrived at Oliveirense via the Argentinian businessman was a Colombian footballer who packed his bags and travelled to Portugal with his partner and son.

He now survives on charitable donations from his neighbours.

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