Belfast Telegraph

England crisis: FA need to get serious over corruption

Governing body wasted chance to clean up the game after Stevens Report in 2007... now here we go again

By Ian Herbert

It has to be said that the second day of The Daily Telegraph's investigation into football corruption lacked some of the colourful idiosyncrasies of the first.

There was no football manager bragging and mocking in a posh restaurant with what looked suspiciously like a pint of wine on the table in front of him and a napkin over his head.

But its findings were inestimably more serious because they contained something notably absent from Tuesday's Sam Allardyce scoop: allegations of corruption.

The claim is that eight unnamed current or recent Premier League football managers are known for taking 'bungs', or 'coffee' as ex-agent Pino Pagliara puts it. (Manager: "Is there a little coffee for me (in that deal), Pino?" Pino: "Yes, course there is. I'll negotiate that coffee as well.")

Hopefully Pagliara's evidence will be substantially more than anecdotal, because he is not the kind of witness you would mortgage the house on, even when boasting to undercover reporters whom he thinks are businessmen.

Pagliara, who opened up over Dover sole at the San Carlo in Manchester, was banned from football for five years in 2005 for match fixing. He is not registered as an FA or Fifa agent and currently not permitted to conduct transfer business.

His principal involvement in British football in the last few years has been time spent with his good friend Massimo Cellino, the controversial Leeds United owner.

Considering that the FA considered the Allardyce revelations serious enough to part company with him, the governing body are surely, in the name of even-handedness, ethically bound to investigate the revelations about these unnamed managers too.

It was being suggested yesterday that no less than an inquiry on the same lines as the one conducted by the former Met Commissioner Lord John Stevens was required.

But hang on a minute… wasn't there some unfinished business where the Stevens Report was concerned?

Some of those with longer memories for these matters may recall that Stevens was engaged by the FA to investigate corruption in football in 2006, after a BBC Panorama programme, 'Undercover: Football's Dirty Secrets', alleged that Allardyce and his son Craig, an agent, accepted 'bungs' from agents for signing players.

Stevens left no stone unturned. He engaged a team of forensic accountants to examine 362 transfers which took place between January 1, 2004 and January 31, 2006. His report, published in June 2007, ended with a conclusion that there were 17 'suspicious' transfers that he had been unable to sign off as legitimate in his final report, because there were outstanding questions against them.

Four of the 17 deals were Bolton signings at the time Allardyce managed the club: Ali Al-Habsi, Tal Ben Haim, Blessing Kaku and Julio Correa. Three were Chelsea buys (Didier Drogba's move from Marseille, Petr Cech's from Rennes and Michael Essien's move from Lyon the following year).

A further three arrived at Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth (Collins Mbesuma, Benjani Mwaruwari and Aliou Cisse). Four were Newcastle signings (Emre Belozoglu, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Amdy Faye and Albert Luque), and two went to Middlesbrough (Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Fabio Rochemback) while one transfer has not been disclosed.

Stevens' thorough work was brave. He was challenging the football establishment. One agent who was named in the report, Barry Silkman, responded to say: "Whoever he is, Lord Stevens, he is a liar. They will rue the day they were ever born."

So what happened next? What did football's governing bodies do to make the work and the veiled threats Stevens was put through worthwhile?

Nothing. The sum total of nothing. The FA examined the Stevens report and decided that they did not have the investigative infrastructure to deal with it. So they asked Fifa to look more deeply, instead.

But this took time. Much time. Fifa say that their "formal intervention" was not requested by the FA until November 2008 - a full 17 months after Stevens had published his work.

Fifa say that they then looked at the evidence, too. But this took time. Much time. Not until September 2009 - more than two years after Stevens reported and 10 months after the FA had asked for help - did football's supreme authority reply to say that they could not investigate, because the FA had made their request too late.

Here, in black and white, is the response to an inquiry to Fifa about what became of the list of 17: "Fifa thoroughly examined each individual case, and informed The FA in September 2009 that the Players' Status Committee was not in a position to consider the complaints due to the time elapsed."

So the FA and Fifa were given something vastly more valuable than the loose claims of an ex-football agent and convicted match fixer, talking over dinner in central Manchester.

They were handed the fruits of a rigorous and forensic financial investigation, led by one of the most senior ex-police officers in the land, and yet lacked either the curiosity or concern to look a little deeper.

So they went unsolved. Corruption in football might be a problem. But the indifference of those tasked to tackle it has been just as much a scandal.

The Stevens Report’s 17 ‘suspicious’ transfers

Ali Al-Habsi: Lyn Oslo to Bolton

Tal Ben Haim: Maccabi Tel Aviv to Bolton

Blessing Kaku: FC Ashdod to Bolton

Julio Correa: Valladolid to Bolton

Didier Drogba: Marseille to Chelsea

Petr Cech: Rennes to Chelsea

Michael Essien: Lyon to Chelsea

Collins Mbesuma: Kaizer Chiefs to Portsmouth

Benjani: Auxerre to Portsmouth

Aliou Cisse: Birmingham City to Portsmouth

Emre Belozoglu: Inter to Newcastle

Jean-Alain Boumsong: Rangers to Newcastle

Amdy Faye: Portsmouth to Newcastle

Albert Luque: Deportivo La Coruna to Newcastle

Aiyegbeni Yakubu: Portsmouth to Middlesbrough

Fabio Rochemback: Barcelona to Middlesbrough

One final suspicious transfer has not been disclosed

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