Commentary

All clean in Scotland, according to managers

According to Hibernian manager Neil Lennon, the scourge of illegal transfer payments that is tearing through English soccer has not infiltrated the Scottish game.

Lennon, who left Bolton in March after serving as its manager for nearly a year and a half, told the BBC he was aware of situations such as those being unveiled by an extensive investigation conducted by the Daily Telegraph.

His playing career included stints with Manchester City, Crew Alexandra, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, and Wycombe Wanderers in addition to six seasons at Celtic, to which he returned to manage from 2010 to 2014.

Another former Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, vacated the England manager post just 67 days into his tenure. A video recorded by the Telegraph showed him discussing with reporters posing as businessman ways to evade transfer regulations. FIFA regulations prohibit managers and coaches and team executives from receiving under-the-table payments or bribes -- termed “bungs” in England – in transfer deals, but the practice, if not widespread, is not unknown.

Ten years ago, Allardyce and his son Craig were implicated in a BBC Panorama documentary, "The Beautiful Bung," investigating purported acceptance of illegal payments by officials in several countries as well as at FIFA. Allardyce and his son denied the allegations and no official action was taken against them.

FIFA has tried, unsuccessfully, to eliminate ownership of player contracts by unscrupulous third parties, agents or agencies that sign private deals with players and take a cut of transactions and dole out illegal payments.

Authorized agents are entitled to a percentage of a player’s earnings and transfer fees as a matter of course, but murky circumstances of third-party ownership of players’ rights have clouded the game for decades. These individuals entice team executives and managers to conduct deals in exchange for a kickback.

“It's high time that it's been exposed,” said Lennon. “People are taking money out of the game and it leaves a really bitter taste.”

One assistant manager, Tommy Wright, has been fired by Barnsley for allegedly receiving money in exchange for lobbying the club to sign certain players. Southampton assistant manager Eric Black has denied allegations that he, like Allardyce, outlined methods to undercover reporters by which team officials could be bribed to conduct transfer deals.

“It's not just managers or assistant managers, it's people that you don't see in the public eye," said Lennon. “These people are doing deals that they shouldn't be doing and walking away with thousands; millions of pounds at times. I feel a bit of sympathy for Sam, but it's time this was stopped. If you break the rules, it will eventually catch up with you. You hear whispers from players and managers and agents. There have been rumors for a long, long time about other people. High-profile people. It's these unlicensed agents that are making money through third-party ownership, doing deals with cash involved and giving the game a bad name. You have to look at the owners or chief executives who are speaking to these people and have been doing it for a long time.”

Kimarnock manager Lee Clark and Lennon say they don’t get involved with financial details regarding player transfers. Lennon said he’s never been offered an illegal payment and questions whether there’s enough money in the Scottish game to make the risk worthwhile.

“In my time at Celtic, I spoke to agents, but when it came to negotiations, I left that to other people and I've done the same thing at both my other clubs,” he said. “I'm not aware of any issues in Scotland and I've been up here for a long time. I'm not sure clubs could afford to pay extra money to these shadowy figures in the background.”

Clark played for Newcastle United, Sunderland and Fulham, and managed English clubs Huddersfield Town, Birmingham and Blackpool before moving north. “I've never heard a thing,” he said. “You like to think everyone does right by the game. It's been a terrible week with the allegations that have been made.
“From a personal point of view, I've never been involved in anything like that or been in that situation.”
 

 

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