No "heads on stakes", as the Premier League's chief, Richard Scudamore, describes media demands for public exposure of alleged financial wrongdoers in football. Not yet, anyway. Though, for all Scudamore's declaration that "the clubs are, in one sense, in the clear", it is evident that there are individuals connected to the national sport who will not sleep easy as the Serious Fraud Office and other enforcement agencies continue their examinations.
But if Lord Stevens' nine-month Quest inquiry into "alleged irregularities in relation to transfer dealings" has served a wider purpose than merely attempting to end up with the bloodied hands of the executioner, which thus far it has failed to do, it is that the mere presence of his team has created a new climate in which deals are negotiated and completed.
"Irrespective of the outcome," insisted Scudamore as he assessed the initial response to Lord Stevens' recommendations, "a parallel move is being created where there is a mood shift. There is a bigger resolve around the game to get this sorted than I have ever witnessed before."
Indeed, this was one of Scudamore's more pertinent remarks when asked about the response from clubs to the report. "The feedback from clubs is sober," he said. "They are relieved none of their friends and colleagues have been exposed, and they are surprised about the level of access Stevens has enjoyed. They have not been exactly enthusiastic about it, but they knew they had to go through it and that the game was going to take some stick. It is a journey and it is not over."
There will remain many sceptics, though. Asked directly why the man or woman in the £35 (and upwards) seats should accept that the inquiry has been anything but a whitewash, Scudamore declared: "Firstly, look who has been picked to do it. Look at what resources he has been given, look at what he has so far said. He has had unprec-edented access, he has had full co-operation, he's had bank accounts, onshore and offshore. Secondly, he hasn't yet finished. We haven't told him to bury it or put it under the carpet."
Scudamore talks an upbeat game. Yet in truth, as the Luton manager, Mike Newell, who has emerged as a conscience of the game, has suggested, this was always going to be a limited inquiry, on cost grounds alone. Scudamore talks about Stevens' resources, and a figure of £800,000 has been touted around, though in fact a more accurate amount is £650,000 - a slender wallet when it comes to the acquisition of financial and legal expertise.
Although Stevens' Quest team clearly have been rigorous, their investigations involve only Premiership clubs. Also, the scope of the inquiry is over just two years up to 31 January 2006. And although Scudamore speaks of the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police having access to bank accounts, onshore and offshore, one does not have to be a forensic accountant to be aware that fraudulent deals will tend to involve cash, which will probably have been laundered.
However, the clubs and agents can now be guaranteed that on football's multi-million money mound, stones are being lifted and searchlights being shone into hitherto hidden crevices, and not merely by the Quest team and the fraud police.
The Inland Revenue, and even the VAT (Customs & Excise) man have apparently declared an interest. "These guys are in and out of the clubs, and here, all the time," said Scudamore. "They love coming here because we're sexy, and it's more high- profile; it's better than going to some widget factory in Oldham.
"Would you rather have a look at what Thierry Henry's been earning or have a look at Goldman Sachs? Believe me, it's hugely scrutinised. They are crawling over this business all the time."
Stevens' focus has now switched from managers to the eight agents who have failed to co-operate, and the 17 deals that he has not "signed off". The eight remain anonymous apart from Willie McKay, who has admitted that he was involved in three of the deals, though he has added: "I have nothing to hide".
However, Scudamore believes strongly that those agents should be banned if they continue to refuse to provide information. "They should have their licence taken away; no trade, you are no longer an agent. It's what would happen in any other industry."
He added: "I want to see the FA join in the inquiry formally, because that will give Lord Stevens what he needs to have the same level of investigation into agents as he's had into the clubs. Then we'll see what he's got and deal with it. The FA have power with the agents. We don't."
The most relevant of Stevens' 39 recommendations refer to agents; and particularly his confrontation of the so-called "duality" issue. The Premier League have already agreed that, from 1 May, agents will not be allowed to represent more than one party in a deal. "The agents don't like it but the game has to get a grip on it," said Scudamore.
Neither does the players' union chief, Gordon Taylor, like the recommendation that the Professional Footballers' Association should be a body that acts as "advisers to players" and not be "remunerated by players for its role in transfers". In other words, it should not act as an agent. There are arguments on both sides. If this inquiry has opened a forum for discussion of such issues, it can be no bad thing.Reuse content