The Football Association will review security around the England team – and especially access to rooms used for squad meetings when they stay in hotels open to the public – following a "bugging" incident last week.
The perpetrators are yet to be identified but are understood to have made up to six hours of recordings that include England players talking about a variety of subjects, including personal matters, and also include the England manager, Fabio Capello, talking tactics ahead of England's friendly last week against Egypt.
It is believed the recordings were made at the team hotel, The Grove in Hertfordshire, but it is not known how; whether by bugging device, or hidden tape recorder or even by some more complex eavesdropping device.
It has been suggested that the bugging exercise might lead to the betrayal of crucial tactical nuggets to England's World Cup opponents. But the likeliest scenario is that someone was hoping to capture salacious gossip and sell it for cash to the tabloids. The Independent understands the contents of the tapes were offered for sale to Sunday newspapers late last week, and subsequently to other newspapers.
The FA, which is making no official comment, has issued a legal warning via its lawyers that the contents of the tapes – which it is taking on trust because nobody at the FA has heard them – must not be published as they were gathered by illicit means that could lead to criminal prosecution.
A closer scrutiny of meeting rooms and "sweeps" for recording devices appear likely in the future as the FA focuses on preventing such incidents happening again.
The "bug affair" highlights the ongoing disruption being caused to the England team and Capello's plans by off-field events. There is a supposition that whoever taped the players and Capello was hoping to capture some kind of disciplinary "showdown" between John Terry and his international manager, which they would then attempt to sell to the media. The contents of the tape are unconfirmed, but at least one report suggests that some England players were taped talking about all manner of subjects, including the bonuses they may be paid for World Cup performances, but there is no suggestion of any showdown between Capello and Terry.
The tapes have been described as "potentially very embarrassing" and "a dream for any opposing coach" but it is thought unlikely they would be bought by opponents. The attempted sale to newspapers suggests the perpetrator was intent on a quick cashing-in on gossip rather than industrial espionage. It is also unclear how much value information relating to a friendly with Egypt would have to an opposing coach several months down the line. The practicalities of how the tapes would be sold are also complex.
Spying has never been a major concern in English football, although random tales of shady characters overlooking training pitches from unauthorised areas in the build-up to major championships are standard fare.
Spying and sport: Other scandals
*Formula One In September 2007, McLaren were fined $100m and excluded from the 2007 Constructors' Championship after it emerged they were in possession of confidential data regarding the Ferrari team.
*NFL A Patriots employee was caught videotaping the Jets' defensive signals in 2007. Patriots' coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000.
Football Internazionale were cleared in 2007 of recording striker Christian Vieri's phone calls and spying on referee Massimo de Santis.Reuse content