After scolding FIFA on ethics, English soccer stands accused

Associated Press

September 29, 2016

           

Former England soccer team manager Sam Allardyce speaks to the media outside his home in Bolton, England Wednesday Sept. 28, 2016. Even by English soccer's standards, the latest embarrassment is a new low after Sam Allardyce was forced out in disgrace after one game in charge of the national team.

MANCHESTER, England When lecturing FIFA on ethics, English soccer leaders look like the moral arbiters of the game.

It's an attitude that gives the English Football Association little wiggle room when problems land on its own doorstep.

So once the England team manager's integrity was damaged by unguarded comments to undercover reporters about illegal transfer practices, while attempting to cash in on his prestigious job, Sam Allardyce's position was untenable. Allardyce's contract was terminated after 67 days and one game in charge.

"If we are going to be opinionated on how people behave in football in England and internationally we have to live the high standards ourselves," FA chairman Greg Clarke said. "A problem came. We dealt with it quickly."

But the problems aren't going away. Far from it, with further allegations of wrongdoing emerging and pressure to act from the government.

The Daily Telegraph also filmed an agent accusing 10 managers, which it did not name, of taking bribes linked to player transfers.

The latest installment of the months-long investigation, which was published late Wednesday, led to second-tier club Barnsley suspending its assistant manager. Tommy Wright was filmed apparently accepting an envelope which the newspaper said contained 5,000 pounds ($6,500) from a fake Asian firm to help place players at the northern club.

Bribes linked to transfers have long been suspected in England, which hosts the world's richest domestic soccer competition in the Premier League.

"The vast number of Premier League transfers, loans and contract renegotiations involving large sums of money, combined with the greed of those involved in the deals, give rise to corruption," Liz Ellen, head of sports at law firm Mishcon de Reya, told The Associated Press.

There is one quick fix.

"There should be a separation of powers," Ellen said. "Managers and players should not have the same agents as this creates conflicts of interests and appearances of bias or conflict which are difficult to overcome."

The League Managers Association said it is taking the allegations of bribery "very seriously as they are obviously damaging to the game."

Queens Park Rangers said it had "every confidence" in manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink while launching an investigation after he was filmed appearing to seek a fee of 55,000 pounds ($71,600) to work for a fake Far Eastern firm suggested selling players to the second-tier London club. Hasselbaink denied any wrongdoing, saying he was only offered a fee to make a speech in Singapore and did not ask QPR to sign players said to have been represented by the fake firm.

Allardyce is the highest-profile scalp from the investigators.

A video published on Monday showed Allardyce appearing to offer advice to fictitious businessmen on how to sidestep an outlawed player transfer practice and also negotiating a 400,000-pound ($519,000) public-speaking contract to top up an annual England salary of 3 million pounds ($4 million).

A further recording showed Allardyce mocking predecessor Roy Hodgson, who was fired after England's humiliating loss to tiny Iceland at the European Championship in June, questioning the FA's financial strategy, and talking dismissively about the organization's president, Prince William.

"On reflection it was a silly thing to do," Allardyce said outside his home near the northern English city of Manchester on Wednesday. "Unfortunately, it was an error of judgment on my behalf and I've paid the consequences."

Allardyce was heading for the airport to escape England and to reflect on becoming the shortest-serving manager of the team.

Before getting in his car, Allardyce had a message for the investigative journalists.

"Entrapment has won on this occasion," the former Sunderland and West Ham manager said, "and I have to accept that."

Covert investigations were also at the heart of wrongdoing around FIFA being exposed, although U.S. authorities instigated the case that led to dozens of soccer officials being indicted.

In English soccer, a newspaper is leading the charge through covert operations.

"This kind of expose is a good tonic to the issue of corruption in football because it adds a fear factor," said Ellen, the London-based lawyer. "When club officials and agents see what could happen when they are exposed, then the fear of getting caught could be a bigger motivating factor than the desire to act properly in the first place."

But Allardyce received backing from an earlier occupant of the England job who was fired over bad results rather than any off-field conduct.

"Sam has innocently has paid the price," said Steve McClaren, whose reputation is defined by his miserable spell with England in 2006 and 2007. "It could have happened to any of us in high-profile sports positions."

When asked later by the AP if he was aware of being caught up in the Telegraph investigation, McClaren said: "No comment."

Earlier at the SoccerEx global convention, McClaren complained that as a manager: "Privacy can only really be found in the four walls of your own home."

If Allardyce had a greater awareness of his responsibilities as England manager when being wooed by fake businessmen, he would not have lost the job he chased for more than a decade.

And now the British government wants action.

"We will be discussing the matter with the football authorities," sports minister Tracey Crouch said. "All the evidence presented to them must be investigated fully and we stand ready to assist in any way we can."

The FA and England's leagues responded, saying in a joint statement that the allegations from the newspaper stings will be investigated and any evidence of criminality would be handed to authorities.