Ecuador is a country desperate for relevance in the South American football world. This week, it achieved it — for all the wrong reasons.
The Ecuadorian national team are embroiled in a post-World Cup controversy involving tournament prize money and dubious reports of infighting that have a foreign journalist facing potential legal action from Ecuador’s players.
The scandal began last week when Ecuador’s 24-year-old midfielder Jefferson Montero told Fox Sports in Ecuador that “internal problems prohibited (Ecuador) from advancing in the World Cup,” while hinting that playing for one’s country should not be about “earning money.”
This led to runaway speculation about the reason behind such a statement, with at least four of Montero’s teammates immediately denying his claims and urging him to clarify his comments.
The flames were fanned once again when Jorge Ramos, a popular Uruguayan radio broadcaster for ESPN Deportes in the United States, claimed a reliable source “inside (Ecuador’s) delegation” told him that just six Ecuadorian players were splitting 50 percent ($2.4 million) of the $4.8 million in total prize money awarded to the players on the national World Cup team.
This came after reports in Ecuador had already claimed the players were divided over the money.
Reportedly, Antonio Valencia, Ecuador’s captain and Manchester United winger, wanted to donate a large portion of the prize money to the family of Christian ‘Chucho’ Benítez, his close friend and Ecuadorian teammate who died tragically in July 2013 in Qatar.
Many of his teammates, however, disagreed.
Valencia, renowned for his calm temperament, has refuted Ramos’ claims.
“We decided to split the money — from prizes — for minutes played in the qualifiers,” Valencia said. “I’m outraged… There were never two sides or anything like that. We always went to discuss the prize money thinking about the group. I feel indignant. They’ve damaged my name, for which I’ll initiate legal action against him [Ramos] and the ESPN network if they don’t prove to me that we took the 50 percent.”
Valencia’s threat is supported by his teammates, including Montero, and the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF), who have since released more details regarding the division of prize money.
Last Monday, FEF president Luis Chiriboga broke it down in a press conference.
In total, Ecuador, are to receive $8 million for their participation in the World Cup. Sixty percent of that money ($4.8 million) was delegated to the players as awards (for comparison, winners Germany received $35 million).
Ahead of the World Cup, the FEF offered an advance of $2 million to the Ecuadorian players, which they did agree to share based on minutes played in the qualification process.
The FEF released a signed agreement from November 2013 with the individual awards for each player. The maximum of $120,000 was awarded to 4 players (Valencia, Walter Ayoví, Frickson Erazo and the late Chucho Benítez), and a minimum of $2,000 went to the players who were on the bench but never played.
However, the problem now seems to center around the remaining $2.8 million.
In his statement, Chiriboga claimed the money would be disbursed in “equal parts” to the 23 players on the World Cup roster and divided by previously agreed-upon percentages among staff.
Speaking to Ecuadorian radio, ESPN’s Ramos maintained that his source is “reliable,” adding, “I do not like this kind of limelight. We did not discuss what we discussed with the intention of causing this revolution you’re telling me is happening in Ecuador. I have the greatest respect for the players of the Ecuadorian national team. My informant has my full support and that’s why I dared to give the names, without imagining that this would create this situation.”
He did, however, say his informant was not an Ecuadorian player.
While the Ecuadorian team and federation remain united in their defense, some questions remain, especially involving what Montero referred to as “problems” in Ecuador’s World Cup camp.
Payouts for World Cup players have long been controversial among the poorer nations participating in the global tournament. For European-based players, the bonuses are supplementary income, which they often donate to charity. For domestic talents on much smaller wages, the World Cup prize money alone could be double what they earn as an annual salary.
In Ecuador’s case, the payday contrast is stark between the haves and have-nots — those lucky enough to earn big salaries with wealthy European teams and those who toil in the national league for much less money.
The eight players on the Ecuadorian roster who play in Europe, including Montero (Swansea City), Enner Valencia (West Ham United), Noboa (Dynamo Moscow) and Antonio Valencia (who earns $5.9 million a year from Manchester United), should empathize, though: the league where they all got their start, Ecuador’s Serie A, had its season postponed just last month due to a player’s strike over unpaid monthly salaries.