Football must kick out these sharp practices

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Manchester United football club's announcement that it is to sever its links with Elite Sports is long overdue. The allegations that Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has been encouraging his employer to do business which profited his son's transfer agency have not only tarnished the reputation of one of the world's most famous clubs, but also that of football as a whole.

Manchester United football club's announcement that it is to sever its links with Elite Sports is long overdue. The allegations that Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has been encouraging his employer to do business which profited his son's transfer agency have not only tarnished the reputation of one of the world's most famous clubs, but also that of football as a whole.

Agents operate in a shadowy world. Their services in negotiating transfer deals can command huge fees, but too often they receive payments in a manner that, in any other business, would be deeply questionable.

Jason Ferguson's involvement in a number of deals instigated by his father came to light only after two of Manchester United's biggest shareholders, John Magnier and JP McManus, started asking some uncomfortable questions at board meetings. Their decision to rock the boat was probably related to their private feud with Ferguson senior, but that in no way diminishes the scandal. They have shone a light on to unsavoury practices that are still all too prevalent in football. The seedy culture of unauthorised payments, secret deals and bungs remains endemic; Alex Ferguson's misfortune is that he was found out.

The fact that Manchester United, of all clubs, has been forced to take action, however inadequate and however belated, should be taken as notice by all other clubs that such sharp practices can no longer be tolerated. Many football clubs are floated companies now, and the same standards that apply to other plcs must apply to them. They are owned by shareholders, and men like Alex Ferguson are not entitled to private fiefdoms, no matter how successful they are on the field of play.

The only way to stop this seedy and damaging culture is to introduce total transparency into all transfers. This is in the interests of the clubs, many of which are saddled with huge and growing debts. Most commission-based businesses are required to state how much they take; there is no reason why agents cannot do the same. All the basic financial information of transfers should then be made public by the clubs involved. Football must, finally, clean up its act.

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