Spoilt puppies' passport to confusion

Players often aren't aware of the rules being bent on their behalf. It is a dodgy trade and, if the Home Office can do nothing about it, clubs should be very cautious
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The Independent Football

If the Hindujas were a pair of nifty midfielders, we would have welcomed them as brother citizens of this great country with no questions asked about the manner of their entry. All they'd have had to do was to show more brilliance at one of our national games than our boys.

If the Hindujas were a pair of nifty midfielders, we would have welcomed them as brother citizens of this great country with no questions asked about the manner of their entry. All they'd have had to do was to show more brilliance at one of our national games than our boys.

Other countries have far more exacting entrance tests for immigrants. Unfortunately, if you fail to shine at sport the only other options involve spending three days in the boot of a car or getting someone high up to have a word in the right quarter.

As the events of the past week have proved, the latter is not a route to be recommended; although, here again, history proves that sporting excellence can ease a man through all such barriers.

While the parliamentary hounds were in noisy pursuit of those responsible for the Hindujas' passports, it was revealed that 40 years ago a considerable amount of rule-bending and blind-eyeing played a part in the transfer of the great Jimmy Greaves from Milan to Tottenham for the sum of £99,999 (for some reason they didn't want to saddle him with the first £100,000 price tag).

In those hard times Britain's currency regulations forbade large sums being sent out of the country and the fee would punch a big hole through that rule. Since Spurs were the top team of the day, Harold Macmillan's government were afraid of the votes to belost among football fans and sent civil servants scurrying to find a loophole.

A Treasury official came up with the ingenious argument that Greaves could be classed as an"invisible import" and the Bank of England was instructed to allow the deal. There were many dissenters. One, from Hove, questioned whether it was in the national interest to lose so much money from the country "especially as he is a spoilt puppy".

This was a dreadful thing to say about one of the deadliest goal-scorers ever to grace our game and, what's more, if that man has survived he would have long ago realised that in those days the world of spoilt puppies was in its infancy.

By an amazing coincidence of topicalities, passports were at the heart of another heated debate last week. The number of players who have infiltrated our domestic game on false or questionable passports could be numbered in dozens and the situation led Gordon Taylor, secretary of the Professional Footballers' Association, to demand that the Home Office sort it out. The PFA have enough bother keeping job opportunities open for British-born players against the legitimate foreign invasion of our top teams. If the place is overrun with illegal immigrants it starts to get serious.

I've welcomed the arrival of foreign players. They've added much to the attraction of our clubs and to their achievements in European competition. The idea that we would help home-grown players by imposing quotas on the number of imports at each club is wrong.

The appeal of the game and the standards that are set by this infusion of superior skill can only help the development of British football. There would be a risk if the foreign players who come here flitted in and out of the scene but I'm impressed by the high proportion content to settle here for long periods.

I'm less confident about theattention span of this new breed; those who arrive here, mainly from South America, on passports of a less weighty nature. This problem has been slowly accumulating in gravity and it is certainly not ours alone.

Less than two weeks ago, the French Football Federation docked St Etienne seven points for fielding illegal players and are investigating over 70 cases of dubious nationality. Lazio, Sven Goran Eriksson's former club, had an uncomfortable time last season when it was discovered that their Argentine midfielder Juan Veron's Italian passport had been fraudulently obtained.

Edu, the Brazilian recently signed by Arsenal for £6m, was involved in an embarrassing matter over a false passport last year while Derby County had untold trouble when it was discovered that their new striker Esteban Fuertes was discovered to be in possession of a fake Italian passport. Derby managed to recover their outlay but have vowed to be very careful next time.

The trouble concerns South American players, and any other from outside the EU, who obtain passports from another EU country where, they claim, they or their parents or their grandparents originate. Thus do they avoid having to apply for a work permit.

That's fair enough in genuine cases but there are serious doubts whether the countries concerned operate a stringent check. As you might expect, the hands of some opportunist agents are at work here. Players often aren't aware of the rules being bent on their behalf. Once they are in possession of an EU passport, dubious or not, they can be sold on from country to country. It is a very dodgy trade and if the Home Office can do nothing about it, the clubs should beextremely cautious about who they are buying.

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Discussions about Great Britain entering men's and women's football teams in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens would have raised hopes in the hearts of many young players but I'd advise them not to get tooexcited. I've been beating this drum for so long my arm hurts, but I am afraid it is a scandal likely to continue.

The British Olympic Association have, quite correctly, tackled the Football Association about it. Their chief executive, Simon Clegg, discussed it with his opposite number at the FA, Adam Crozier. "There's a long time to go until Athens," said Clegg, but I would like to be able to take a football team because we are depriving athletes of the opportunity to compete in a multi-sport Games."

He'll find that the blazerwearers of the four home country FAs share the view that depriving athletes is distinctly preferable to risking their own sporting necks. They are scared that any football team bearing the title GB will cause the rest of the world to demand that they amalgamate at every level.

It is not a realistic fear especially as everyone knows that we can't otherwise compete in the Olympic football event which, in any case, is confined to players under 23. At that level, a GB team would have had a good chance of a medal in Sydney. This so-called problem doesn't apply to the girls but I suspect that they will suffer from the same mule-headed priority the FA members put on self-preservation. I trust the BOA will keep up the pressure on behalf of our best young players of both sexes.

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The former England manager Kevin Keegan had an extra reason to laugh all the way to the bank on Friday. The previous day, one of his predecessors, Graham Taylor, was honoured at a lunch to celebrate his 1,000th club match as a manager and during his speech to the assembled 150, Taylor referred to Keegan's disappearance from view since quitting his high-profile job last year. "It's high time for him to show his face again," he said.

On Friday morning, the tabloids took up the call. "Kevin Must Stop Hiding," said the Daily Mail headline, while the Sun's splash read, "Come On Kev, It's Time To See Your Smile Again".

They didn't have to wait long. A few hours after those words appeared, Keegan won damages of £150,000 from the Sun's sister paper the News of the World for publishing defamatory allegations of betting on the eve of England matches. There would have been few more satisfied smiles around.

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