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Antero Henrique: Portrait of a self-made man

Pepe, Hulk, Falcao, James… All of them bought at “reasonable” prices were all sold at very high prices. Only one thing in common: Antero Henrique. True jack of the trade when it comes to finding gems, the Portuguese joined PSG on the 2nd of June 2017. One goal: reviving the club’s sporting project.

 

FC Porto (1990-2016) – An extraordinary ascend

It all starts here. Certainly not by whispering in the ears of President Da Costa, but rather behind a desk, as a typical administrative employee. Indeed, before being the figure of the transfer window he is now, Antero first entered the world of football through the back door. He joined the Portuguese club in 1990 and climbed through the ranks at full speed. From being in charge of season tickets’ fees, to becoming coordinator of the club’s magazine, Dragoes. The 49-year-old then ended up in more important positions, such as press officer, director of public relations and finally sporting director. It should not be forgotten that he has a considerable trait for this field, Antero is multilingual. Indeed, in addition to his native language (Portuguese), he speaks 4 other languages: French, English, Italian and Spanish. An aspect of his character that allows him to build genuine relationships with the players. His success in Porto is partially due to this capacity to listen, but it is also because, at the beginning, he was the one who was at the service of others. “Antero was the one we went to see to do the dirty work, to deal with the bad stuff, or to bring back the briefcases you know,” reveals a source close to the scout. It is undoubtedly thanks to this unconditional commitment that he gained the board’s confidence. “He wants to prove that he is the best” according to the same source. And he surely is one of the best, at least this is what the passionate Lucien d’Onofrio, representative of Doyen Sports, an investment fund that orchestrates a large part of FC Porto, notices. He saw in him a good negotiator and decided to take him under his wing. He taught him all the tricks of the trade and became in some way his mentor. Together, they orchestrated the largest transfers ever made by the club, but we will come back to this later.

After 26 years at the service of the club, Antero decided to quit. He was the brain behind FC Porto, he embodied the golden age of the Dragoes. So why give up everything after a quarter of a century? Well, the reasons differ, even if some seem undeniable. “I see two reasons for his departure. The first is the takeover of Alexandre Pinto Da Costa, the son of Porto’s president who was also an agent. A takeover that contested Antero’s authority, at the time number two of the club. The second reason, in my opinion, is the return of Jorge Mendes to Porto. In the early 2000s, he grew in importance in Porto before reaching new horizons. He was starting to move towards Benfica, and Porto did the same with the company Doyen Sports (enemy of Mendes). But in 2016, Mendes made his return to Porto with the arrival of his close friend Nuno Espirito Santo as coach. However, Mendes did not break off his relations with Benfica and Henrique obviously did not appreciate it.” So the Portuguese era ends here, Antero took advantage of his few months of freedom to maintain and expand his network, until the call of Nasser Al-Khelaïfi…

 

Antero, serial scout

Buying a player is easy. You can buy some coffee, but the best feeling is to produce it.”

Antero Henrique

That is how he summed up his policy in an interview with Le Parisien. Oddly enough, the best buying club is also the best selling club. But Porto don’t buy for much and sell very well: in Europe, the Portuguese club was an expert. Between 2000 and 2016, the club sold for 901.3 million euros! No club has a higher number in this period.

One of the main reason, you can imagine: Antero Henrique. Through the years, he built a sprawling network, 250 scouts and informants in the world. He also makes sure to keep the same entourage. (D’Onofrio, Kia Joorabchian, Pini Zahavi, the latter responsible for Neymar’s transfer among other things). Antero’s network is the reason behind his biggest transfers. Let us take a look at those:

> Pepe: bought for €2m, sold for €30m

> Radamel Falcao: bought for €5,43m, sold for €40m

> James Rodriguez: bought for €2,5m, sold for €45m

> Eliaquim Mangala: bought for €6,5m, sold for €53,8m a deal that made him the most expensive defender ever.

But be aware, it is not as simple as it seems, and that is where the operations become more obscure.

There is in Portugal what is called “TPO”, the third-party ownership, the Grail for Portuguese clubs. It is a system that was banned by FIFA in 2015 but then circumvented, it allows to trade in “shares” of players. Concretely, it is the sale by a club of a share of a player’s economic rights to a third party such as investment funds but also simply to agents or even to the players themselves. Let us come back to the transfer of Mangala. At the time, he belonged to Standard Liège coached by D’Onofrio. After having been transferred to Porto, the Portuguese board yielded a third of the player’s shares to investment funds: Doyen Sports Investments, linked to D’Onofrio and specialized in uranium, coal and gold, but also Robi Plus, also linked to D’Onofrio. His name often comes up doesn’t it? 

Conclusion: the player is sold for €53,8m to Manchester City, of which €30,5m go to the club, €17,9m to Doyen Sports, and €7,4m to Robi Plus. In less than 3 years, the three parties gained more than eight times their investment, thanks to TPO.

So when Antero landed in France, he left behind him the possibility to use this third-party ownership, forbidden in France. It all depended on his network and his ability to persuade, and it is where his talent lies. It is this same talent that allowed him to become one of the head of PSG. Let us recall that in the beginning the club leaned towards the Italian Andrea Berta, except Henrique’s application was pushed by one of his good friend, Marcelo Simonian, none other than Pastore’s agent. “To me, it was a surprise that he joined PSG, it is still a mystery. Sure he was Porto’s number 2 but he didn’t have a monopoly on the transfers either. I think that PSG absolutely want to surround themselves with powerful men and Antero Henrique is the epitome of this trend.” told us Pippo Russo, Italian sociologist and journalist.

Nevertheless, there he was and it was time to prove himself. He didn’t need much time for that.

August 31, 2017: the French wonderkid, Kylian Mbappé, joined the ranks of Paris Saint-Germain. A transfer that started 3 months earlier, on the 2nd of June 2017. Indeed, the very evening Antero arrived at PSG, he dined in a restaurant with Mbappé’s family. The scout didn’t need much time to understand the method to use. Thus, he appointed Luis Ferrer, the man in the shadows, a PSG scout whom he had known for a while already. The gears were set in motion. On the 7th of July, several PSG representatives (Henrique, Emery, Ferrer and Westerloppe) arrived in Bondy, in the Mbappé family home. But in the young Monacan’s head, PSG is only the 3rd choice behind Monaco and Real Madrid. Tension is building up, what if everything fell apart?

That wouldn’t look like Henrique’s work. A few days earlier, Nasser told the young player about the incoming arrivals of Dani Alves and Neymar. Mbappé thus realized that the promise had been kept. When Alves joined PSG, Kylian was thinking.

Luis Ferrer was then caring for his family, and regularly checked on the family’s home. PSG’s initiative to become appealing has gained credibility with the coming of Neymar. Mbappé made his choice, there was only money to talk about. On the 27th of August, the deal was done: a loan deal with an obligation to buy set at €180m. The contract was officially signed on the 31st of August at 6:30pm, only a few hours away from the end of the summer transfer window.

Antero Henrique thus marks PSG’s history.

Unfortunately, it’s only the tip of the iceberg…

 

Adept of shady methods

As talented as he is, this is not an ode to Mr. Henrique. Just as many others in this game, he still suffers from precedent matters, which almost put a stop to his arrival in Paris. First and foremost his acquaintances raised some questions. We already mentioned this earlier, Antero was close to Lucien d’Onofrio, known by the courts. Sentenced in 2007 in the affair of illegal transfers at Olympique de Marseille, the Anvers president was condemned to 2 years of prison (of which 1 year and a half were conditional) a fine of 200,000 euros, and wasn’t allowed to work as an agent anymore. Even if the Belgian club assured last year that there would be an agreement between Paris and Anvers, it is not what D’Onofrio told us:  “No agreement has been or will be signed with PSG. We don’t have the same relationship with Antero that we used to have back in Porto.” Maybe this turnaround is linked to this summer’s transfer window. D’Onofrio proposed two midfielders to Henrique, Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini. These proposals were not given much consideration afterwards.

Second acquaintance, or let us say, obscure manoeuvre: that of Eder’s kidnapping. According to Football Leaks’ investigation, the agent Mohamed Afzal was given the task by FC Porto to sign Eder at a low cost. It was January 2012, the Portuguese player’s contract expired in June he would then be free to sign anywhere. However, Académica de Coimbra hope to sell him during the winter transfer window. Premier League clubs were interested, the player flew to Porto to meet with West Ham executives. During the meeting, he slipped away to make a phonecall but never came back. The police was alerted. In fact, Eder was held hostage in Lisbon by Afzal, who apparently did everything he could to stop the player’s transfer to West Ham. He would only reappear on the 1st of February, the day after the closure of the transfer window. In the end, Eder never played in Porto, despite the Azfal-Henrique plan, a plan worthy of a big budget American production.

The suspicious activities of Henrique in Porto were numerous. We’re also referencing to intimidating methods that he is a master of. Methods consisting, for example, in using Porto’s ultras to pressure the board or the players who would consider leaving on their own. Indeed, he is ready to achieve his goals by any means necessary and particularly wants to keep his acquaintances close to him no matter the club he works for. His cousin, for example, is at the head of the club’s scouting branch. He does not hesitate about creating new jobs, for Luis Fernandez for example, who arrived at the club with nearly the same role as Carlos Romagosa, former technical director of the club. Now, Antero has chosen a former Porto executive, Paulo Noga, which doesn’t bod well for Fernandez…

He was also acquitted in the famous Fenix trial for which he was charged. As a reminder, the case involved questionable activities of a security company working for his club. In other words, he was accused of employing unofficial bodyguards who worked for a firm accused of mafia activities.

This case was the primary obstacle to his arrival at PSG.

 

His PSG years already coming to an end?

When Antero signed with PSG, he knew that he was joining a completely different economic model than that of his former Portuguese club. One would create star players, when the other would buy them. He was persuaded that he would have total control over the recruitments of the club… At least he used to.

What are the reasons behind this change in scenario? Well one of the most spectacular transfer window in the history of football, PSG let go of Unai Emery for the coming of Thomas Tuchel and from there, it was completely different. “Antero isn’t pleased because he isn’t in command anymore, and he is not used to that. During the last transfer window, Tuchel always had the final say, he decided of everything,” told us an anonymous source.

So he still tried to do what he does best, sell his players at high prices to escape UEFA’s scope. Despite the numerous critics he was the target of after this transfer window, he still perfectly accomplished his mission in the last six months.

Notably, the sales of Gonçalo Guedes, Javier Pastore, Yuri Berchiche, Odsonne Edouard, Jonathan Ikoné, and the loans of Kevin Trapp, Rémy Descamps, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Giovani Lo Celso. A total of €125m of cumulated sales. It is certainly not an outstanding thing, but it is a record for PSG.

And if we take a peek at the new signings, it is not that big of a tragedy. First of all, the club wasn’t going to let a legend of the sport get away from them, even more so if he wouldn’t cost the club anything. Gigi Buffon is thus joining the ranks of PSG, which allows the club to go forward. Juan Bernat? Between Berchiche’s departure and Kurzawa’s injury, the left-back position was deserted. Thilo Kehrer? He comes to strengthen the Parisian defence, a necessary reinforcement as Tuchel wants to have the possibility to play 3 at the back. As for Éric Maxim Choupo-Moting, it isn’t any less obvious. He is coming in as a Cavani substitution, a substitution role which could’ve been filled by a youth player already at the club… Therefore, is the current state of the midfield area the cause of the great disappointment? Why spend €37m on a defender when the departure of Lo Celso confirms the need of strengthening the midfield. The criticism is understandable, but the one who brought two world’s biggest football stars last summer surely hasn’t lost his talent in such a short period of time. Still, decisions are made in Doha, and Tuchel’s power is increasing. So, what about the leeway the Portuguese is so used to possess?

He is even taunted by some players. “The midfield three were out of place? You have to ask Antero Henrique about this,” has kindly dropped Thiago Silva after PSG’s defeat in Liverpool… Troubles with the players, troubles with the coach. Nothing good for the future of the sporting director. One thing is certain, Antero Henrique needs to be at the top, he needs to shine, which isn’t the case anymore with PSG.

 

Yasmine Muffoletto

Translated by Geoffrey Chausset

Paris United

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