Sam Wallace: Unsavoury details but old copper struggles to nail crooks

All dramatic stuff, sullying the glory game, but still no names
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The Independent Football

Lord Stevens will awake this morning to a thicker covering of white than any of the Christmas scenes depicted on the cards on his mantelpiece. This time though, the spread of white in his newspapers will not herald festive tidings, it will scream "whitewash" - the incredulity that £850,000 of the Premier League's money has been spent to find out that English football is, like a traditional Christmas, as pure as the driven snow.

The only question that remains is: will people believe him? Last week, when Stevens delivered his verdict of accidental death on Diana, Princess of Wales, the British public nodded in agreement. Six days later, the same man has failed to declare one solid case of wrongdoing in the national game and the same public gulps in disbelief.

Stevens is a reassuring figure for the English sensibility. An unflappable old copper who bravely rooted out corrupt policemen in the Met and a man who confers credibility. Yesterday he had his steely patience tested to its very limits with allegations that he has failed in his promise to deliver the crooks. "We could have written this report eight months ago," spluttered one indignant questioner.

First there is one important distinction to make. It was Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, who declared his League free of corruption yesterday. It was Stevens who said that there are 17 transfers outstanding which he is not satisfied are clean, and eight agents involved. His greatest failing was to run out of time without cracking those cases and, in the vacuum, Scudamore has seized his chance.

The great bungs scandal of English football has not quite reached its end, but it has certainly reached the end of the beginning. The remit that dealt with transfers between January 2004 and January 2006 and involving club employees or officials has, in Scudamore's eyes, been satisfied - there is no evidence to suggest wrongdoing. The outstanding cases will be dealt with over the next few weeks, although it was impossible not to feel that Stevens' great moment to shine had passed.

The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner is understood to have handed evidence to what he identified darkly as "the authorities". Whether that leads to a prosecution or a high-level case seemed incidental yesterday. So pervasive was the sense of anti-climax in an industry that demands winners and losers, heroes and villains, that no-one was much interested in the cryptic hints that Stevens gave about potentially damning evidence in the future.

English football might have cleared its name but what about its image? Scudamore did a good job at professing his discomfort at elements of the report. "How can you be pleased?" he asked at one point. You can be pleased, the answer is, with an inquiry that is fairly critical of the policing of transfers - a "mess", in Stevens' words - but does not name names or rock the boat that the chief executive is steering contentedly towards the biggest Sky television deal of all time next season.

There was some criticism yesterday, Stevens talked about the "scant regard" Premiership clubs had for the "rules and regulations of this great game". "Unacceptable," he added, "I repeat, unacceptable". All suitably dramatic stuff, the sullying of the glory game met with the grave concern from the old detective who thought he had seen it all until now. But still no names.

The decision not to identify the eight agents was also conveniently side-stepped. Scudamore said he had not been told. Stevens refused to comment, although presumably he believed identifying them would not help his investigation.

The recommendations in Stevens' report are astonishingly thorough but there are no guarantees that the Premier League or the Football Association will adopt them. The proposal that the Professional Footballers' Association - the players' trade union - is forbidden from earning money from deals is a remarkable assertion and will draw fire from the PFA's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, one of the game's most battle-hardened figures.

The vast majority have already been proposed by the FA, although not the recommendation that a manager's agent cannot act for players at the same club which has the potential to cause chaos among the agent fraternity.

It was all hard-hitting stuff that Stevens demanded the Premier League adopt, but whether they decide to do so is quite another issue altogether.

There were a few interesting details -like the three clubs who were not familiar with the rules governing transfers - but this is hardly the bedrock of a solid case to convict football's potentially criminal elements.

So it is time to re-examine that big question. If the BBC's Panorama team, the occasional big-name journalist and all Stevens' forensic accountants cannot find serious evidence of wrongdoing in football, does it really exist?

And where do we go from here, short of wandering round the corner to Baker Street from yesterday's press conference in Marble Arch and trying to persuade Sherlock Holmes out of retirement?

The interminable detail of this investigation, its endless postponements have achieved one thing at least. The appetite for uncovering corruption in football is severely diminished, which may eventually be the Premier League's greatest success of all.

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