The agent of the England manager Steve McClaren last night reignited the debate over corruption in football with a remarkable attack on the game's finances in which he declared that "the majority" of his profession were corrupt and admitted that even he had been offered "a suitcase full of money" to push through a deal involving an international player.
Colin Gordon, 43, who is a close friend as well as the agent of McClaren, his former team-mate at Bristol City, said that English football was " the dirty man of Europe" when it came to transfer deals. In an attack that the country's leading agents have threatened legal action over, Gordon alleged "serious fraud" in multi-million pound transfers where profits were skimmed off transfer fees by agents on top of their fees.
The wide-ranging attack by Gordon, whose company Key Sports also represents Theo Walcott, David James and Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd among others, will attract considerable interest given his close links to the England manager. Gordon is known for his passionate opinions on football and its governance and he has since pointed out that he was expressing his views and not those necessarily held by McClaren himself.
Nevertheless, Gordon will be asked to contribute in some way to the current inquiries taking place into football corruption that have been launched by the controversial BBC Panorama investigation broadcast last week. Coming from a respected figure in football, these latest revelations will do nothing to dispel the public perception that corruption in the game is out of control despite the authorities' attempts to address it including the Premier League's inquiry headed by Lord Stevens.
Regardless of his views, the fact alone that Gordon felt strongly enough to speak out and join other whistleblowers such as the managers Mike Newell and Ian Holloway. Another influential agent Jonathan Holmes, wrote in The Independent last week that there was a serious problem. Gordon even conceded that corruption among agents was also rife: "I can't argue with the public seeing us as the scum of the earth."
Fifa announced yesterday that they will investigate Pini Zahavi, arguably the most powerful agent in world football, for his role in the Ashley Cole tapping-up scandal. Gordon's words have gone down badly with the Association of Football Agents (AFA) who said yesterday that they were looking into the possibility of suing for libel.
"Are agents corrupt? Not all but the majority," Gordon said in an interview with the Wolverhampton Express and Star. "It's accepted abroad. We pretend we are holier than thou but I've spoken to people over there and the English game is considered 'the dirty man of Europe'. We are the worst it shouldn't be accepted."
Mel Stein, the former agent who is the lawyer for the newly-formed AFA said yesterday that his members were looking at the possibility of legal action. The AFA claim between them to have done 80 per cent of the deals done in English football over the last year and their members include the agencies SFX, SEM, Stellar Group, Base Soccer, Formation Group and First Artists although not Gordon's Key Sports company did not wish to join.
Stein said yesterday: "I have one thing to say to Colin Gordon: name names. We will look at his comments and if we believe they are actionable we may pursue a group defamation case."
As well as criticising agents, Gordon also turned on managers who he said were complicit in corruption. He said: "I can't accept the fact that a manager can slate his chairman for not buying a player when he's probably got a couple of players in his own bank account. Don't they earn enough money now?"
"Sometimes, the chain of people involved is not just one person but three or four. You will never get the truth out of them."
Gordon said that the fraud was "a very, very sophisticated business" and that he was doubtful Lord Stevens' inquiry would truly be able to uncover the truth. "I've encountered it once abroad when I was taking an international player to an Italian club and I was offered a suitcase full of money to make sure the deal went through," he said. "I didn't want it; I had no interest."
While Gordon accepts that he has no evidence that would be of use bringing the culprits to justice he did say that the regulators were "laughable" singling out the Minister for Sport Richard Caborn and David Mellor, the former chairman of the Football Task Force. He said that the BBC investigation never got to the "big moment" but adds that tracing transfer bungs is hugely problematic.
"Over here, you will never catch a manager out talking directly about it [bungs]," he said. "There will be a line that you detect in a conversation and you immediately know where it is heading. I've had that and pretended to be deaf and dumb for the next few minutes and talk about something else.
"The Football League trumpets about how the agents' fees are dropping but that is not where the corruption is. The corruption is in the transfer fees. That's where money goes missing."
Gordon also outlined a typical transfer scenario in which an agent could make huge profits in a deal to bring a foreign player to the Premiership. "[For example] I find out he is valued at £2m by his club. I say to that club, 'I can sell him for £5m in England there will be £500,000 in it for you but the other £2.5m makes its way back into this account.' Since the Premiership began, I would estimate tens of millions of pounds has gone out the game this way."
He also accused agents of giving advice in order to maximise profits rather than benefit the career of their players. Pointing out that he could have made more money taking Walcott to Chelsea, he said: "They are interested in the pounds and not plotting a career path. They only see the short-term gain."
"It's well known that Chelsea wanted Theo badly and the deal with them would have been more lucrative for everyone, including ourselves. But we knew that Theo's career path would be best served by going to Arsène Wenger. We chose Arsenal because I have never met a more genuine and decent man than Arsène Wenger.
Gordon also found his comments under attack from John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association who said that if he had any evidence it should be taken to the FA. "I have been in the game for 51 years and the majority of people I meet are absolutely first class," Barnwell said.Reuse content