Football: Fifa on trail of Russian agent

Football: Revelations in United manager's autobiography about pounds 40,000 `gift' draw attention of world governing body
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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED, Everton and Andrei Kanchelskis will all be questioned by the Football Association and by Fifa, the game's world governing body, for using the Russian agent Grigory Essaoulenko.

In his autobiography published this week, Managing My Life, Sir Alex Ferguson has opened a can of worms by revealing he was offered pounds 40,000 by Essaoulenko, who was Kanchelskis' advisor at the time.

The "gift" was returned by Ferguson but both the FA and Fifa want to know what part Essaoulenko played in the negotiations for a new contract and a move to Everton.

Fines and even bans are possible for both clubs and the player if Essaoulenko was involved against Fifa's licensing regulations. Essaoulenko has never been licensed by Fifa, a fact it confirmed last night.

However, United's chief executive, Martin Edwards, who Ferguson says in the book was threatened by Essaoulenko, will have to explain why he was talking to him in the first place. Everton must also state what agents they used in the protracted talks that took Kanchelskis to Goodison.

Ferguson says in his book that Essaoulenko presented him with pounds 40,000 during the transfer negotiations. When he tried to return the money later in the company of Edwards, Ferguson said that Essaoulenko turned nasty, insisting that Kanchelskis should be sold to Everton immediately.

"Before long tempers were lost... [the agent] screamed at the chairman: `If you don't transfer him now, you will not be around much longer.' "

Fifa brought in a new rule to license agents in January 1995 in an attempt to stop cowboy deals in the wake of the George Graham affair. Kanchelskis moved to Everton in August 1995.

Fifa are waiting for the FA's report. An FA spokesman, Adrian Bevington, said last night: "We will contact Sir Alex Ferguson and establish the full facts and we will forward our findings to Fifa. This is their issue. I should stress that we are not investigating Sir Alex Ferguson himself whatsoever".

The case has echoes of Alan Stubbs's move to Celtic. Fifa fined him and the club after their chief executive, Fergus McCann, provided the evidence they needed by thanking an unlicensed agent for doing the deal.

Essaoulenko, now the vice-president of Spartak Moscow, dismissed the accusations levelled against him. "I'm not going to react in any way to certain statements by Alex Ferguson in regard to myself and our relations," Essaoulenko was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency Tass yesterday. "I always had great relations with Alex."

Kanchelskis's old club, Shaktor Donetsk, were due money from United for the sale of the player to Everton. Around that time the Donetsk president was blown up by the Russian mafia while United's negotiators needed police protection when they flew over to thrash out terms of a pay-off.

Arsenal are just emerging from the tangle of their French striker, Nicolas Anelka, and yesterday their vice-chairman, David Dein, who is an influential voice with the FA and the governing body of European football, Uefa, called for tighter controls on agents.

"There needs to be some discipline put back into the game," he said. "Chairmen around Europe will tell you it is a free-for-all with agents and advisors. We've all been victims of the same manouevring. Everyone has a horror story.

"We need a legally binding document, signed at the completion of the transfer, in which it is made clear who is working for who and where all the money is going. An agent must also have to undertake not to unsettle a player during the duration of his contract. To help this the commission paid by a club to the agent should be spread over the course of the contract. If it is a five-year-deal with the agent getting pounds 500,000 he should get pounds 100,000 each year.

"Otherwise it will end with players moving every one or two years, there will be no loyalty, no stability. We want to run a respectable industry. Our sport is attractive to millions of people worldwide and what they want is integrity and honesty."

Dein stressed that there were good agents, as the speedy completion of yesterday's signing of Davor Suker from Real Madrid illustrated. By comparison Anelka's move in the opposite direction has taken months and is still to be ratified.