Leading article: Gifts, bungs and corruption

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The Independent Online

Yesterday's findings from Lord Stevens' inquiry into football corruption were unsatisfactory. Although he was happy with the probity of the majority of the transfer deals he examined, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner also revealed that some of the agents he contacted had failed to co-operate and that questions remain over 17 transfers. But rather than using this opportunity to name the agents or the clubs involved, Lord Stevens announced that his investigation, which has already lasted nine months, will continue. The day of judgement has been postponed yet again.

We must hope this inquiry will reveal something substantive. But there is little hope that it will. The harsh truth is that we already know something is rotten in football, regardless of what Lord Stevens finally concludes. There is a "bung culture" in the English game. This is not a matter of conjecture. The former Arsenal manager George Graham was found guilty of accepting an "unsolicited gift" from a Norwegian agent in 1995. No one in football seriously believes this was an isolated case.

Since Mike Newell, the manager of Luton Town, made the allegations that prompted this latest inquiry, we have heard some damning testimony. Alan Curbishley admitted in August that he was once offered a bung while manager of Charlton. The former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson told an undercover reporter in September that certain Premiership managers are known to take illegal payments. The respected agent Colin Gordon has echoed this. Those who deny there is corruption must explain why so many important figures in football believe there is.

There are two central problems here. The first is a lack of regulation of transfer payments. The Football Association plainly cannot be relied upon to ensure that clubs and agents remain honest. The organisation has always gone out of its way to avoid asking embarrassing questions of its paymasters in the Premier League. The second problem is a lack of transparency. We simply do not know what each club is paying out in agents' fees.

Lord Stevens recommends that all transfer deals should be brokered in future by an independent body. Another proposal is that players, rather than clubs, should pay the fees of agents. This would reduce the temptation for clubs to undersell, or pay too much for, players. The only other realistic option is for clubs routinely to disclose the fees they pay to agents. Both these suggestions are obvious, correct and should have happened long ago. Many clubs are limited companies. It is not just supporters' money being wrongly siphoned off, but that of shareholders. One way or another, football has to clean up its act.

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