It began with a bang, back in 2004. When Carlos Tevez moved from Boca Juniors to Corinthians for a Brazilian-record $18m, their new owner MSI’s frontman Kia Joorabchian promised it hailed a new era for the club and even for Brazilian football as a whole.
“Our plan is to build Corinthians into a team of galácticos,” he said. “Our goal is to do what Man United and Real Madrid have done. Everyone else who goes to Brazil goes there to trade players. They don’t do anything constructive for Brazilian football.”
Javier Mascherano followed shortly after, arriving from River Plate for $15 million. Corinthians won the Brazilian championship that first season.
Three years later, this Sunday Corinthians were relegated from Brazil’s top division, the Brasileirão.
MSI and Corinithians had signed a 10-year deal guaranteeing they would provide $35m in cash ($20m to pay off debts) in return for 51% of future profits while covering any losses. But the truth was murkier from the start, with MSI’s real status shrouded in secrecy. Rumours about which Russian oligarch(s) money might actually be behind London-based MSI churned and churned, with Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich fingered as prime suspects.
Then, of course, came the protracted farce of the Tevez “transfer” to West Ham and then to Manchester United, with similar confusion over the status and ownership of Mascherano. Meanwhile, disputes between management and ownership went on endlessly, and Corinthians employed seven different coaches in two years.
In July, Corinthians broke their relationship with MSI after a Brazilian judge ordered the arrest of Joorabchian and Berezovsky for money-laundering.
Three weeks ago, Corinthians former president Alberto Dualib was suspended for three years by Rio’s Supreme Sporting Tribunal for irregularities in their dealings with MSI, as it was alleged he had allowed the club to be used as a money laundering front for MSI.
The tribunal resulted from a federal police investigation, as the team’s bank accounts were frozen by the authorities and several directors were put under surveillance. Police recorded telephone conversations between them and MSI, and in one Dualib reportedly said that Corinthians won their 2005 title only because the competition was fixed.
And on Sunday, Corinthians — Brazil’s second most popular club, and winners of the 2000 World Club Championship — were relegated after their 1-1 draw with Gremio left them in seventeenth place. Investment this season meant not the purchase of a Tevez, but second and third division players.
Galácticos are nowhere to be seen.