As Luton Town's manager, Mike Newell, yesterday agreed to meet Football Association officials next week to "name names" of allegedly corrupt agents, and to substantiate claims that he has been offered "bungs", two experienced managers, Gerry Francis and Joe Royle, said that they believe such practices do happen in English football.
Graham Bean, the FA's former anti-corruption "enforcer", also told The Independent that Newell's evidence could be a "massive step" in clamping down on illegal payments, but warned that the process from allegation to proof was "never a clear-cut issue".
As several Premiership managers, including Rafael Benitez, Mark Hughes and Martin Jol, entered the debate - they expressed dissatisfaction with some agents but did not accuse anyone of illegality - a group of England's most powerful agents described bungs as a "disgraceful practice". In a statement, they added: "As far as we are aware, Newell's assertions are without foundation."
Newell reignited the controversy of dodgy dealing in football on Wednesday, saying he had been offered money to facilitate deals.
Yesterday he said that he is now prepared to "dig out" corrupt agents, "and officials from other clubs", who had offered him bungs.
"I have been offered sweeteners by agents and certain club officials to sell players from this club," he said. "I always say I am not interested and I never give it a minute's thought.
"If I was open to that sort of thing, I might well have taken a sweetener. I have no problem substantiating what I have said - and I have no problem digging people out. I received a fax from the FA this morning, and I am quite happy to meet people and talk to them.
"I can back up everything I've said, and I can sleep well at night. The matter is in the hands of the authorities now."
Newell said that the corruption in transfer dealings "has been the scourge of the game for the last 10 or 15 years". He added: "It's very widespread. If it goes on at our level and below us, I'm sure it probably goes on at a much grander scale in the Premiership."
Only one football manager has ever been prosecuted and punished by the FA for taking bungs, and that was Arsenal's George Graham after he accepted £425,000 from the notorious Norwegian agent Rune Hauge in the early 1990s.
Gerry Francis, who managed Tottenham in a period after they were punished for financial irregularities of their own, said yesterday: "After George got done I don't think it stopped. People were just more careful. If they were that way inclined they would go ahead and do it anyway. It's not the way I was brought up." He added: "Most managers will have been offered money by agents, especially since foreign players and clubs started getting involved."
Joe Royle, whose 24-year management career has taken him to Oldham, Everton, Manchester City and now Ipswich, said that he had never been offered, nor received, backhanders by agents, but added: "It has obviously happened elsewhere. The evidence is in the book Broken Dreams [Tom Bowers' investigation into football corruption]. No one has sued. But I'd hate to think people thought every football manager is corrupt because they are not."
Bean, who was the FA's compliance officer between January 1999 and August 2003, welcomed Newell's offer to provide evidence. "As far as I can recall, the FA have never, ever had a situation where someone has offered to come in, name names, and drop evidence in their laps to pursue in this way. When I was there we maybe had a sense of things not being quite right [with some deals] but we never got anything substantiated."
Bean now runs his own company, Football Factors, which advises players, managers, clubs and agents on disciplinary issues. Ironically, one of his clients last year was an agent, Carl Dunn, who was found guilty of hawking around a player under contract.
Sounding a note of caution about Newell's evidence, Bean, a former policeman, added: "When it actually comes to 'cards on the table' time, I'm not sure things will be so clear-cut. Unless you're an investigator, it's hard to appreciate the detail you need: who, what, when, where and why all this happened, and sufficient proof to make a charge stand up. But if the FA take this forward, this could be a massive step."
Benitez said: "There are good agents and bad agents." Hughes described agents as a "necessary evil". Jol said that he had never been offered a bung, but added that he had "heard a few stories in England".
The group of agents who hit back, including Jonathan Barnett, Jerome Anderson and John Smith, released a statement saying: "His [Newell's] comments as they stand cast aspersions over the whole role of agents and indeed licensed agents generally, and are by implication defamatory.
"We welcome an investigation by the FA with which we would be happy to co-operate."Reuse content