- In July 2019 Álvaro Dionisio arrived in Portugal from Argentina, excited at developing his career but after a year he had still not been paid
- He remained confined to a house for months, with no money, along with about 10 other footballers in the same situation
- With the help of the Portuguese player union SJPF he decided to take legal action against the club that brought him to Europe
“The worst point in my nightmare in Portugal was between July and August 2020. I’d been there for a year, I hadn’t received a penny of my salary, I’d only played eight matches and I’d never been paid. I was shut away in a house with only enough money to buy food, far away from my girlfriend. It was devastating.”
The words of the 23-year-old Argentine midfielder Álvaro Dionisio give only the barest idea of the dramatic situation a footballer goes through when he finds himself caught in the web of swindles and player trafficking far from home.
Dionisio was one of nearly 25 Argentine players who were hoodwinked by a group of fake agents, posing as investors and managers from the lower divisions of Portuguese football.
Today, almost two years after his nightmare began and having recovered and now playing in Greece, he opened up to FIFPRO about his dramatic experience, in order to prevent any other footballer who is trying to find his destiny in European football from falling into the same snares of lies and betrayal.
“What I went through was horrible, but I always try to look on the bright side of things. I think I became stronger and learned to be wary in the football world, and that can end up being good for making the right decisions”, Dionisio said.
According to union lawyers, the modus operandi of traffickers almost always follows the same pattern: footballers from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Nigeria are chosen as victims. They are generally players on the fringes of the professional game.
In June 2019, Dionisio could not find a way forward in his career as a footballer. He was 21 and had already played in the Lower Division Championship with Estudiantes and Gimnasia, both in La Plata, and with Defensa y Justicia.
It was then that what he thought was a unique opportunity arose: to go and play lower- division football in Portugal.
“A guy who said he was an agent told me I’d been shortlisted. They sent me the the plane tickets and we flew to Portugal”— by Alvaro Dionisio
The midfielder told the story: “A friend tipped me off that they were holding trials in Buenos Aires. There were loads of lads there. After I’d played for a bit, a guy who said he was an agent told me I’d been shortlisted. A month and a half later they sent me the plane tickets and we flew to Portugal on 16 July 2019.”
Dionisio had arrived at the training ground of AD Olivairense, in the third division. In his first contact with the rest of the team he could already see that something was not right.
He described what he saw: “I found out there that they’d also held trials in Rosario. There were too many of us. A group of 25 trained in the morning session and another group of 25 in the afternoon. It was crazy. There were 25 of us from Argentina alone and in that category only six foreign players are allowed per team”.
After a few days, Dionisio was sent along with another 16 compatriots to Mirandes, in the fourth division, located in the town of Miranda do Douro, with a population of just 2,000.
“That’s where the problems began. I had agreed in principle to a three-year contract. Now they told me that I was going to sign a contract for one year and for less money. They also told us that our salary was going to be paid by an Argentine investor (with the initials S. D.) who lived in the United States.”
“We started talking to this person and he began to delay the payments to us from the start. After a few weeks, they told us at the club that the cheques he had sent for our salaries had bounced. The arrangement was supposed to be that the club housed and fed us and this person paid our salaries. But in actual fact from August to January we didn’t see a single euro”, he complained.
By March, the situation had got worse. Five Argentinians had jumped ship and there were another twelve packed into a house in the Portuguese town. They had no money and on top of that they had stopped playing because of the restrictions imposed owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We spent all day in the house. They let us out to go running in pairs, but we were confined there. Luckily, a lot of people helped us. The town baker brought us food, the owner of the gym let us train free of charge, a neighbour invited us for dinner in the patio of her house.”
Although the alleged investor maintained dialogue, he did not meet the salary claims. The breaking point came when the club management asked the players to sign a contentious document: “We hadn’t received anything and suddenly the club president came and asked us to sign a paper as if we had been paid every month.
He told us it was to be handed over to the town council because they wanted to evict us from the house, but we knew that document was to be sent to this investor. After that, I got in touch with the Portuguese player union and decided to take legal action against Mirandes.”
The union gave the players a payment of 350 euros a month so that they would at least have a little money.
“What I have learned is that you have to check everything properly before you travel to a club abroad”— by Alvaro Dionisio
“The people from the union told us that this was common practice there. What they usually do is bring a large group of players from these countries and bet that one will be successful at the top level. With the money that could be generated by that single player they would take care of paying the salaries of all the others. But if that player didn’t emerge...”, he mused.
Once the legal complaint had been submitted, the Argentine investor who lived in the United States vanished from the face of the earth and the group of twelve Argentine footballers dispersed: some returned to their home country, another went to Germany and a few, including Dionisio, joined other Portuguese clubs: Dionisio moved to Bragança , where he was able to finish the season without any problems once sports activity had resumed in the country.
After this, he returned to Buenos Aires for a holiday and he now plays for Almyros in the Third Division in Greece.
Dionisio reflected on his experience: “What I learned is that you have to check everything properly. Perhaps I was too trusting and they tricked me. You’ve got to talk, to ask about everything, not only with the intermediary, but also talk to people at the club you’re going to. There are so many cases of players who are lied to and then their careers are ruined.”