You might question the ‘ethics of entrapment’, but deceit should be acceptable if it is used for a good cause. So The Daily Telegraph editorial team deserves a big round of applause for their ‘football for sale’ investigation.
The investigation showed that England’s erstwhile manager Sam Allardyce had complete disregard for rules. Barnsley assistant manager Tommy Wright allegedly accepted £5,000 cash ‘bung’ to help agents sign players for his club. Queens Park Rangers manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink allegedly wanted a fee of £55,000 to act for a sports company. Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino reportedly offered to “sell 20 per cent of the club to help ‘businessman’ get round the third party rules”. Eight Premier League managers stand accused of receiving bribes. Former Spurs, Portsmouth, Southampton and West Ham United boss Harry Redknapp knew that his players had a “spread bet” on one of their matches, but he didn’t inform the authorities… In fact, the whole exposé revealed how endemic corruption has had been in English football.
‘Big Sam’ was on £3 million per year with the Football Association (FA). Still, he was willing to broker a deal with a fictitious Far East year firm for £400,000. The 61-year-old was done in by his greed after just 67 days and one match in charge of the Three Lions. His position as England boss had become untenable. Forget ‘mutual consent’, the FA had to sack him.
Allardyce’s subsequent apology looked half-hearted. Then, two days after his departure, England players received a postcard from their erstwhile boss saying, “Our journey has begun”. Comical!
“I didn’t think it could be any worse after the Euros at the Iceland game this summer, but it’s rock bottom now. You think the whole football world would be laughing at England. It’s a pretty embarrassing situation for me. You are England manager, you are six or seven weeks into (the job), and you know what comes with the territory of being the most important coach in the country. So it was very foolish to actually be in the room…” Alan Shearer, the former England captain, told BBC Sport.
English football always pretended to be keeping corruption at arm’s length. Malpractices in Fifa and Uefa were sniggered at. Italian football had been given a bad name for its alleged affinity to backhanders and cack-handed business. But now the truth is out and English football has lost its moral high ground.
“To some extent, the FA are in the dock as well because they have lectured Fifa, they have lectured Uefa about making sure that there’s a better governance of the game; that they clean their act up,” British Labour Party politician Richard Caborn observed.
Wealth is English football’s main problem. The Premier League thrives in hyperbole; in “silly money” and “kamikaze spending”.
The tournament also has become more global and less English since the advent of satellite television in the 1990s.
Take the case of Paul Pogba, the French midfielder, who has been roped in for £89 million by Manchester United this term. This column in no way intends to discredit or demean a very fine player. But £89 million for kicking a football? Insane!
Yes, Real Madrid had set the precedent by forking out world-record transfer fees for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, but the scenario in Spain is a little different. La Liga is ruled by two giants—Real Madrid and Barcelona—and others just make up the numbers. English football is cut-throat; more so after the £5.14-billion TV rights deal. Now, every team has substantial financial strength and the agents try to make the most of it.
Only recently, Ryan Giggs bemoaned the changed culture in English football. “They (academy players and teen stars) are already all driving Range Rover Sports; they are already well-paid and treated like a Premier League player. But, in reality, they are not; they are nowhere near it.
“We had jobs—washing boots, cleaning the dressing room, cleaning the manager’s cars, sorting out bibs and balls. If an apprentice didn’t blow the balls up properly and Peter Schmeichel was facing shots which were swerving everywhere, he would let them know,” the Manchester United legend told Forever Sports magazine.
Life is not so rosy in lower tiers, making the territory more prone to corruption. Players in League One or League Two don’t earn in millions. Managers have little job security there. And with lesser vigilance, it becomes easier to circumvent the rules.
Football also doesn’t have too many well-rounded individuals to put things in perspective. “I don’t enjoy the business side of football. I love the game, I love training and competing. I’d happily take a pay cut if there was less business involvement in the sport.
“With respect to the world of football, I earn a normal wage. But compared to 99.9% of Spain and the rest of the world, I earn an obscene amount,” United midfielder Juan Mata had said.
The Spaniard is a refreshing exception in an industry that revels in living in a bubble. Bereft of proper governance it, however, can burst any time.