Leading article: The health and credibility of our national game is under threat

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This week began with another crushing embarrassment for Sven Goran Eriksson, the hapless manager of the England football team. A Sunday newspaper sting caught him offering to ditch England before his Football Association contract was through and boasting of his ability to tap up David Beckham in a pie-in-the-sky deal to take over Aston Villa. It was all rather unseemly. Some urged the FA to sack Mr Eriksson, despite the fact that a World Cup is looming. But the FA would be well advised to concentrate on a bigger issue, something that threatens the health of the national game much more than this supposed "treachery".

There was a low-key meeting on Wednesday between Mike Newell, the manager of Luton Town Football Club, and FA officials. The topic under discussion was Mr Newell's recent claim that he was offered bribes by agents to sell Luton players and that a seedy "bung" culture pervades the entire national game. Mr Newell admits that he has no written evidence of corruption. But the courageous Luton manager is hopeful that his claims will be taken seriously. We hope his optimism is justified.

No one seriously doubts there is a major problem with corruption in the modern game. Over the past decade, numerous players have revealed in their autobiographies how they were illegally approached while still under contract with another club. Some of our top managers have been found guilty of financial impropriety. George Graham was banned for accepting an "unsolicited gift" from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge. The former England manager Terry Venables was deemed unfit to hold company directorships for seven years. Rumours of corruption have been attached to many other managers, and most people in the game privately accept that the bung culture is as pervasive as ever.

It is a shame that no Premiership managers or club owners have stepped forward with evidence to support Mr Newell. Indeed, it is scandalous that no proper financial regulation system exists within football. One can argue that this seedy culture is a by-product of the wall of money that has hit the game in recent years. And it is legitimate to question the bizarre system whereby players can be treated like chattels to be bought and sold by the clubs, while others hold their clubs to ransom. But these are tired excuses. Football cannot be permitted to continue wallowing in this sink of corruption.

The FA, a rather dismal body at the best of times, has a lamentable record. A compliance officer appointed in January 1999 resigned in frustration after five years. A plan for a tough monitoring unit was thwarted by the Premiership, which argued that clubs are already subject to company law. That is manifestly not an adequate safeguard. Manchester United is the only Premiership club that declares the commission it pays to agents. And that is only because a scandal involving the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and his son's agency made it impossible to do otherwise.

Mr Newell's stand gives the FA a golden opportunity to show it means business. It was encouraging that yesterday the governing body contacted the QPR manager, Ian Holloway, who has publicly supported Mr Newell's stance. Let us hope that the voices of open dissent are, finally, beginning to multiply.

There must be tighter regulation of the transfer system, with all deals going through an official clearing house. The powers of unscrupulous agents must be curbed. The FA has spent a ludicrous amount of time and money on retaining the services of Mr Eriksson. It would do better to devote its resources to something vastly more worthwhile: banishing the stench of corruption that hangs over English football.

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