The head of Europol has urged football authorities in Britain not to be “naïve” or “complacent” enough to believe the problem of match-fixing does not extend to games in this country as a Liverpool match was last night alleged to have involved an attempted fix.
Yesterday Europol revealed the outcome of a concentrated 18-month investigation into match-fixing in Europe that has thrown up nearly 700 games around the world that have aroused suspicions of fixing, including one Champions League fixture played in England "three or four years ago."
A Danish newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, last night named Liverpool's 2009 home group game against Debrecen as the match in question. There is no suggestion the Anfield club had any involvement or are suspected of any wrong doing. The report claims the Hungarian side's goalkeeper, the Montenegrin Vukasin Poleksic, was bribed "to ensure the match ended with at least three goals." The game, at Anfield on 16 September, finished 1-0 to the home side, Dirk Kuyt scoring the winner.
Poleksic was again the recipient of an alleged bribe for a match against Fiorentina later in the group stage. That match has been the focus of a previous investigation by German authorities. In June 2010 Poleksic was banned for two years for failing to report an approach by match fixers.
It is the first time a high-level match played in England has come under suspicion during modern-day investigations into this widening threat to the game. Matches at the top level in this country were previously presumed to be immune to fixing.
Authorities have refused to release further details of the match, claiming it is an on-going investigation, but Rob Wainwright, a Briton who has led Europol for four years, believes it must act as a warning to England, and the rest of Europe's elite leagues, that they too are under threat.
He said: "It is clear that the focus of this investigation has been in other countries, not the United Kingdom. However, we are surprised generally by the scale of the criminal enterprise involved and how widespread it is. I think it would be naive and indeed complacent of those in the United Kingdom to think that such a criminal conspiracy does not also threaten certain issues connected with the English game and indeed all parts of football in Europe.
"The decision we took to initiate an international investigation amongst the members reflected the growing concern, indeed the growing intelligence, that we were seeing that this was a much bigger, wider problem than those first cases had suggested."
Europol's investigation, Operation Veto, says 425 match officials, club officials, players and "serious criminals" are suspected of involvement. Six of them are resident in the UK. There are 380 matches in Europe and 300 elsewhere in the world that have been investigated or are part of ongoing inquiries.
Wainwright is to write to Michel Platini, president of Uefa, to inform him of the details of Europol's investigation. Fifa and Uefa have acknowledged the threat of fixing in recent months, as have other sports.
"This is a significant threat to the integrity of football," said Wainwright. "We need the national football associations to see this the same way. I do think from our experience of fighting organised crime that we require a concerted action across the community, not just police officers and those running the game, but betting operators, the public, the media. It has to be a concerted action so we can fight back. This is a problem in world football."
Uefa said it was aware of the allegations and promised a "zero tolerance" response. The governing body said: "As part of the fight against the manipulation of matches, Uefa is already cooperating with the authorities on these serious matters. Once the details are in Uefa's hands, then they will be reviewed... in order that the necessary measures are taken."