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Scandal leaves English game at rock bottom

Allardyce\'s resignation and humiliation at Euro 2016 show national sport is in crisis.

Published: 28th September 2016 08:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th September 2016 08:03 AM   |  A+A-

LONDON: This is the nadir. We have said it before, but this time it really is. Knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland, England have lost their new manager after one World Cup qualifier in an episode that points to a familiar systemic failure of governance.

Sam Allardyce leaves the job he says he always coveted after indulging a desire to add lucrative freelance work to the pounds 3 million he was paid by the Football Association for a part-time role. This urge to top up that salary was displayed before Allardyce had even begun the process of raising England from their knees, to which they had dropped with the most humiliating defeat in their history.

The FA's day of reckoning has been coming, and now it is here.

England have not reached the final of a major tournament since 1966. Roy Hodgson's team were eliminated at the group stage of the 2014 World Cup and by a nation of 330,000 in France. Against that backdrop of deteriorating results, the FA's managerial appointments have been synonymous with chaos, on and off the field, and corruption - especially transfer bungs - remains unchecked, as a series of disclosures in The Daily Telegraph amply demonstrate.

This lowest ebb strengthens the impression of the FA as a dysfunctional organisation. It was not to know that Allardyce would talk so indiscreetly to undercover reporters - but it cannot escape the pattern of chaos on its watch.

For fans, who ultimately fund the game, thoughts will turn to the wider culture of dollar-chasing and rule-avoidance, and how the role of England manager has become entangled in that pursuit.

Another amazing story in the current febrile cycle was that Mino Raiola, super agent, earned more from summer transfer fees than Cristiano Ronaldo picked up from playing football for a whole year.

The estimated pounds 25 million that found its way to Raiola, much of it from Manchester United, was a benchmark sum in the history of the world's favourite game. It affirmed that the business of football has mutated into a parallel industry, endlessly lucrative, and without credible constraint.

Even the world's greatest performers - and Ronaldo is undeniably one - are often secondary figures in the almighty carve-up of global television and tycoon money.

The mind keeps wandering off now towards intense misgivings. Behind the captivating cabaret of league football, for example, is anyone actually policing the pork barrel of multi-billion pound TV contracts, 'partnership' and merchandising deals, or is everyone just plunging their arm into that tub to grab what they can?

Allardyce first. The England manager's eagerness to sell himself to strangers as a "keynote speaker" for pounds 400,000 so soon after accepting a day job with a pounds 3?million salary evoked Yoko Ono's old adage: "The more you have, the more you want." A common response to the Allardyce story was bafflement that an England manager, and his advisers, should go to such lengths to chase freelance income when the FA was already paying him so well to oversee eight or 10 games a season.

In our report, there is an illuminating passage where Mark Curtis, Allardyce's agent, attempts to bump up his client's speaking fee to pounds 150,000 without consultation, as if the extra pounds 50,000 is a mere trifle, and entirely reasonable in the current market. There is a clue here to how pre-boom football people see the tidal wave of money that has engulfed the game. Allardyce's generation remember the days when football was a ramshackle business, when stadiums were shabby, and the game still aesthetically and emotionally connected to the industrial heritage from which it emerged.

They open their curtains to see a wonderland of opportunity, and some of them want a piece of it - mostly by fair means, but sometimes foul.

All through the Allardyce reports there is the sense of a man who felt he had arrived at football's pinnacle and was entitled to exploit that fact; a man with deep experience of transfers, player values and building teams from international components. The world he sees is a vast global web in which only the strong (or the smart) survive.

Loose talk and impersonations aside, the key issue facing the FA was whether an England manager was offering guidance on how to circumvent third-party regulations the FA itself had set in stone.

No wonder Allardyce feels like a man of the world. He has seen all aspects of the football industry. He knows that some of the worst spivs are also the most expensively dressed. It will have been obvious to him that there is a legion of people who pretend to love the game while treating it as a vehicle with which to move money around, some of it in their own direction.

So then we move on to the specific issue of bungs, inducements, backhanders, sweeteners, which could be seen, morally, as an unofficial and small-time version of the vast fees paid to agents such as Raiola, which big clubs hand over because (they say) there really is no alternative. You want Paul Pogba? Then show me the money. And that includes the agent's contractual share of the deal.

The willingness to pay what needs to be paid to secure a player is now regarded as a sign of strength, not least by fans, who howl and rage when a club go in for a player but are gazumped.

This is the new economics of football at the top end, and it replaces an older culture of ad hoc arrangements, in which cash might be handed over on trawlers or at motorway service stations.

In those days, the argument goes, there was barely enough money to pilfer. Now, there is so much money people hardly know what to do with it. The temptations multiply, the moral distinctions become more blurred.

But we cannot surrender to this unregulated gold rush, these back channels of doing business.

These are not pennies from heaven being shared around.

The money starts with fans, through TV subscriptions, club shops, ticket prices and all the other means by which clubs separate money from spectators; all of which tipped into an inflationary spiral that has driven some 'traditional' supporters away.

The Telegraph has set out allegations of bung-taking that are separate from the Allardyce reports. They remind us that the culture examined unsatisfactorily in the Stevens report in 2006 has never gone away. It has simply shifted with the times. Big questions remain about corporate governance, and possible executive involvement, behind the vast edifices erected by club-owning billionaires.

Is it only some mangers and their old mates in the network who are benefiting from transfer business?

In 2006, the starting gun was fired by the Luton manager, Mike Newell, alleging that bungs were "rife." Panorama and The Telegraph were among those who then exposed an alternative economy in which numerous prominent figures were allegedly taking a piece of action to make things happen. Allardyce was named in those reports but not found guilty of any wrongdoing.

Then, as now, the authorities 'acted' only when they were forced to do so by noise off stage. At the end of Stevens, there was the uncomfortable sense that the omerta had held. Cowed by the power of the big clubs and their billionaire owners, the FA are now further away than ever from exerting control over the bonanza.

On third-party ownership, which the FA banned in 2008, and Fifa outlawed worldwide in 2015, Allardyce said he knew of agents who were "doing it all the time" and made his truest statement of all: "I mean, obviously the big money's here." The big money is. The governance is not. Football has dollar signs for eyes.

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