The official start of the new football season may be some way off, but anyone scanning the headlines generated by transfer speculation, or picking up the chatter from the overseas warm-up tours of the big clubs, will realise that football has become an all-year spectator sport. But just as football never seems to take a break these days, neither do those investigating allegations of corruption in the game.
On Monday morning, City of London detectives raided the premises of three football clubs as well as the homes of two unnamed individuals associated with the game. According to the police, this was "in connection with alleged corruption in football and its impact on owners and shareholders".
This is about corrupt transfer deals. The police insistthere is no connection with the Premier League's own inquiry into the probity of the transfer system, which is led by Lord Stevens. But sources close to the investigation are reported to have passed to the police information about 17 deals.
We must await the outcome of the inquiry before reaching a view on the culpability of any individual or club involved. But it is encouraging that the police are taking allegations of wrongdoing seriously. It has been clear since the Luton manager, Mike Newell, made his explosive allegations of corruption more than a year ago that something is rotten in the world of British football. And it is equally clear that the problem is concentrated on the role of agents.
In the short term, the solution is for those who break the law to be prosecuted. It may seem odd to worry about a few hundred thousand pounds being secretly creamed off multimillion-pound deals, but it is, ultimately, ordinary supporters who are being defrauded through such practices. It is time that the cosy culture of impunity that has developed among agents and certain clubs was shattered. It is to be hoped that these police raids mark the beginning of that process.
In the long term, the solution lies in revising the rules governing transfers. Players, rather than clubs, should employ and pay agents. The present arrangements leave the system wide open to corruption. Also, the Football Association should demand that all clubs declare commission paid to agents. If a significant player in the transfer market such as Manchester United can manage this, there is no reason why other clubs cannot.
Football is a business. The recent influx of foreign owners who hope to make money out of enhanced Premiership television rights confirms this fact. And businesses have to be transparent. At the moment, the murky world of football transfer dealings is anything but.