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Oyongo Transfer Saga Raises New Questions

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The Cameroon's transfer to MLS is a lot more complicated than originally laid out, a trip down the rabbit-hole.

It was all so simple when Oyongo was a Red Bull
It was all so simple when Oyongo was a Red Bull
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When writing this article, the only information about Rainbow FC, Oyongo's previous club came through the Rainbow Sports Investments' website. Working with the limited knowledge I had, I wrote the below article. Since then Rainbow FC has reached out to me and clarified their position on the matter. According to Rainbow FC is independent of Rainbow Sports Investments, and there is zero third-party ownership in the Oyongo case.

On Jan. 27 Ambroise Oyongo along with Eric Alexander were traded from the New York Red Bulls to the Montreal Impact for Felipe Martins and the first overall allocation spot.

That is the last undeniable fact from this transaction.

Within a few days the Football Federation of Cameroon (FECAFOOT) deemed the transfer illegal Oyongo being unable to sign with the New York Red Bulls. FECAFOOT argued his contract that the New York Red Bulls purchase was with an amateur club not a professional one, which is not permitted from the Cameroonian FA.

Currently, Oyongo has been suspended by the Montreal Impact for failing to report to the club. The Impact believe the transfer was legal:

Ali Curtis believes the transfer is legal.

Oyongo's agent originally believed the transfer was legal.

So why is FECAFOOT fighting this transfer? To answer this question, we need to explore where Oyongo was purchased from, third-party ownership (TPO) in soccer, and why FECAFOOT would be mad.

FECAFOOT did not return requests to comment for this piece.

Oyongo came to the New York Red Bulls from a club called Rainbow FC Bamenda. If you have never heard of this club, it is understandable because very little evidence exists about it online.

Rainbow FC Bamenda plays in Cameroon's Northwest Regional League. There is no wikipedia article about this league, and it seems to be the around the third tier of Cameroonian soccer, or the highest level of amateur soccer in the country. The only evidence of the club playing I could find was from two articles on Bamendaonline.net, and there was only one set of results that featured a Rainbow FC, which comes from 2012. Here is the table:

Before "registering" with Rainbow FC Bamenda, Oyongo played three years with Coton Sport in Cameroon. On his transfermarkt page Oyongo is listed as having transferred from Coton Sport to the New York Red Bulls before going to Impact Montreal.

(picture via: transfermarkt)

Oyongo's agent is named Nicolas Onisse. He represents Oyongo* and originally supported Oyongo going to Montreal. Onisse did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

*the wording on this hyperlink has been changed to reflect changes in knowledge from when this piece was written to the present.

Now where does Rainbow FC come in? Onisse told LastWordonSports that signing there was necessary to facilitate a transfer to MLS.

"He never played for Rainbow, he just signed with them," explains Onissé. Oyongo was told that if he didn’t sign with Rainbow he wouldn’t get a deal with MLS. This contract was never registered with FECA FOOT or the Cameroon soccer league, they didn’t know about it until recently.

Why wouldn't Oyongo stay with Coton Sport before transferring to MLS, why did he have to sign with a mysterious club with very little footprint?

Enter Rainbow Sports Investments.

Rainbow Sports Investments (RSI) owns Rainbow FC Bamenda. What their relationship is with the football club, is unclear besides photos of the Rainbow FC Bamenda crest showing up in the background of photos on the company's website and Facebook page. What does RSI do?

Rainbow Sports investments is an integrated sports group with investments spanning the entire sports value chain. It consists of Sports Franchise Ownership, Sports Management and Marketing, Consulting, Sports Content, and Sports Finance.

Rainbow Sports Investments is Africa's premier football talent recruitment agency with partnership deals with the MLS and other top clubs in Europe and Asia. They identify and shape footballing talents to suit the needs of top clubs around the world.

via RSI Facebook page

I've stared at that description over and over for the past 72 hours and I have no idea what that means.

To get more context on what type of "club" this is in Cameroon, I reached out to someone who knows Cameroonian soccer much better than I. He asked to remain nameless for this piece:

This case is really difficult to understand even if you're used that kind of "affair". So, most of the things I'm going to tell you are not the "truth" as you understand but my neutral opinion.

Rainbow FC Bamenda is not a well known team even in Cameroon. It appears to be a team owned by investors that tend to act like TPO owners. But they made the choice to create a club (which is easy in Cameroon) rather than buying parts of player's right.

Even if MLS is a unique League, FIFA regards trades between US and Canadian franchises as international transfers. When a player leaves a club for a foreign team, the transfer needs a document in order to be complete: the CIT (Certificat International de Transfert).

It seems that the trade does not includes this document. And this is a point on which Oyongo's crew is going to insist if they go to the FIFA. So that we can have a precedent a we'll know if the fact that MLS is a single entity is enough not to include the CIT.

Despite reports suggesting otherwise, as of Feb. 12 FIFA has not been called into this case.

I asked MLS what the "relationship" between the league and Rainbow Sports Investment is, and I received the following from Sal Della Monica, Director, Communications:

MLS does not have any partnership (formal or informal) with Rainbow Sports Investments. If Rainbow Sports Investments has a player under contract with their federation then MLS must agree with the club on terms for player to join MLS (same as any club who has a player under contract). That is what we have done with those players – with the approval of Cameroon FA.

Why would RSI say they have a partnership with MLS, when they clearly do not, and why would MLS mention that there must be an agreement with FECAFOOT for deals that "[MLS has] done with those players?"

It turns out Oyongo is only one of four players that have come into MLS through RSI. New York Red Bull Marius Obekop, Chicago Fire midfielder Yazid Atouba, and Colorad Rapids Charles Eloundou all have entered the league from the auspices of RSI. Obekop and Eloundou were mentioned to have signed MLS contracts from clubs that are not Rainbow FC Bamenda, but their involvement with RSI can be found on the group's Facebook photos.

(photo via Facebook)

(photo via Facebook)

Meanwhile, if you look at the 2013 MLS Superdraft wikipedia page, Atouba is listed as coming from....

(photo via: Wikipedia)

This is the only other evidence of a player coming from Rainbow FC Bamenda into MLS or other leagues.

A look into RSI's player roster reveals a strategy of signing the rights of young Cameroonian talent, getting them exposure in teams around the world, with the aim of getting them to better clubs with transfer fees.

The 2011 Cameroon U20 side that played in the U20 World Cup is full of players that are involved with RSI.

Ambroise Oyongo, Frank Ohandza, Clarence Bitang, and Yadiz Atouba were all a part of this squad. Ohandza and Bitang both ended up at Buriam United FC, a club in...Thailand.

RSI has an apparent deal with Buriam United, a club owned by a disgraced Thai politician, to send young African talent to the club to get playing time. Ohandza played at Buriam before ending up at Greuther Furth in Germany, and Bitang used his time in Thailand to move to Greece eventually.

Another player on RSI's roster, Ghanian Frank Acheampong played at Buriam United the same time as Ohandza and Bitang, before using his time in Thailand to parlay a move to Anderlecht, one of Belgium's largest club. Acheampong's transfer to Anderlect was for 1 million Euros, the largest in Thai Premier League history.

A final player, Yves Ekwalla Herman played for Buriam United at the same time as the other RSI clients. He has since moved to China, and Buriam United has no African players on its first team according to Wikipedia.

Another popular destination for RSI players are Greek second league teams. Ngwem Ngwem Alberto and Lionel Essono Otto played for Fokikos at one time, and Bong Nouck allegedly played for Panthrakikos before their promotion to the Greek Super League.

Rainbow Sports Investments is Africa's leading football agency in detecting, norturing, managing and placing young talented African players in professional league in all parts of the world. The agency has deeply rooted contacts in the US Major League Soccer(MLS), top European and Asian clubs, which has facilitated the transfer of players to teams like Anderlercht(Frank Acheampong, Bel), New York RedBulls(Marius Obekop,USA), Yazid Atouba Emane(Chicago Fire,USA), Franck Ohandza(Greuther Furth, Ger), Eyang William and Brice Nkamleu(Carolina Rail Hawks, USA), Bong Nouck( Panthraikikos, Gre) , Joseph Florent Obama Obama( Chainat, Thai), Ngwem Ngwem Alberto and Lionel Essono Otto( Fokikos, Gre), Yves Herman Ekwalla( Chongquig Lefan, Chi) as well as a host of others who are currently negotiating contracts in the current transfer window.

The agency currently manages the careers of over 40 players from all parts of the African continent.

via: Rainbow Sports Investment

RSI clearly has influence and signs young Cameroonian players, and its facebook pictures show the recent signings of Thomas Olivier Amang and Brian Anunga. Thomas Olivier plays for the Cameroon U-17 team and Anunga plays for the U-20 team.

On their website RSI boasts an email address, and encourages visitors to fill out a "contact" form. The contact form is rendered useless because the CAPTCHA required to submit an inquest never loads, and the email address info@rainbowsports.com does not work. I sent a message to RSI through Facebook, but have yet to hear an answer.

Ambroise Oyongo is a footballer on the rise. He is now a full member of the Cameroon Senior Men's National Team, scoring a goal in the group stage of the 2015 African Cup of Nations.

With the promotion came exposure for Oyongo he had not seen out of select groups in MLS, which may have caused FECAFOOT to look into its new star.

According to the source I reached out to earlier for context:

[Rainbow FC] belongs to RSI. That's why Oyongo left Cotonsport to go to Rainbow FC... RSI have done it well creating the so called "club" instead of investing directly.

I think MLS cannot admit any kind of deal with a third-party ownership entity...[because] TPO practice is in trouble. FIFA is now thinking about forbiding this practice.

We probably will never know MLS' relationship with RSI or how the players' deals with RSI and Rainbow FC work. All we are left with is a trail player transfers* that originates in Northwest Cameroon that stretches out to Greece, Thailand, and the United States.

*The wording on this paragraph has been changed to reflect changes in knowledge from when this piece was written to the present.

What started as a situation where a player seemed unhappy he was traded has morphed into whether or not trades between MLS clubs in America and Canada are legal, and the legality of how some young African players have made their way to MLS.

Its very unclear how this situation will play out, and the implications are more far reaching than initially thought.