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Saturday, Dec. 23, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Investigation reveals F.A.'s failure to monitor transfers


LONDON -- Occasionally in the media we will read the blindingly obvious from a university in Texas or wherever that after a year's research they can reveal that diving from a cliff into a ravine is dangerous. Or some other statement that we all know.

Christopher Davies

This month Lord Stevens has filled the "night follows day" role by first confirming that after an investigation costing £3.7 million into the death of Princess Diana it was due to the fact a drunken driver was behind the wheel when the car hit the wall at twice the speed limit, the passengers not wearing seat belts.

Lord Stevens called it a "tragic accident," which all but a few with political agendas believed all long.

On Wednesday, Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, announced the results of the yearlong £1 million bungs inquiry involving 28 investigators which showed . . . no one was guilty.

The Premier League clubs are clean with no manager being found to have taken any illegal payments. No club official is now under investigation. Eight agents refused to cooperate with the inquiry who are . . . er, no . . . were not allowed to know their names. Or the 17 transfers (out of 362) still under investigation. Perhaps most incredibly of all, three Premier League clubs did not know the rules -- but, of course, their identity remains secret.

Unsurprisingly, Lord Stevens has been tagged PC Whitewash.

During his October interim press conference Lord Stevens had said "wait and see" -- the inference being there would be a name-and-shame of those involved in illegal payments.

So here's the question: Is the game totally clean despite inside knowledge (without official proof) that managers have taken back-handers? Or is the ability to hide any bungs so good it cannot be traced?

What Stevens has been unable to do, so far at least, is find any hard evidence about illegal payments. Instead he could only hint that some findings have been passed to "the authorities" -- but whether that is the police, fraud office, Inland Revenue, customs and excise or the immigration service he refused to say, hiding behind the claim that he is prevented in doing so by the law.

The Football Association came out of the inquiry with a bloody nose.

The inquiry report stated the F.A. "failed to monitor [transfers] in any detailed or systematic way." Lord Stevens was even more blunt, saying: "The accounting process and the monitoring of those is in a mess. You have great difficulty in tracing sometimes who was the agent, where the money went, and when you cross borders into international territory it becomes even more difficult.

"This is no witch hunt. This is no whitewash. The reason why we are not naming names is the inquiry is ongoing. I know you would like us to name and shame but I can't do it at the present stage. The game, in relation to the majority of what we have seen, is clean but the accounting processes and monitoring of the clubs is in a mess.

"When you are tracing vast sums of money, if there are not proper accounting procedures, if the rules have not been followed then of course it's very difficult [to trace]."

Rightly or wrongly, supporters are not particularly bothered if a manager -- well, a winning manager -- is collecting a drink on a transfer. That must not prevent the game's guardians investigating but they are looking for a financial needle in a haystack and finding any concrete evidence of illegal payments must be unlikely.

MOURINHO apologized this week. Now that WAS a surprise. The Chelsea manager does not normally do apologies, but under pressure from "above" at Chelsea retracted his view that Everton striker Andrew Johnson dived to win a penalty last Sunday. The weakness in Mourinho's argument was that Johnson clearly did not attempt to deceive referee Mark Halsey, though that has not prevented the Portuguese from standing his ground in the past.

"He dives," said Mourinho after the game, seemingly unaware that when it comes to staying upright Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Didier Drogba have given conclusive evidence of going down far too easily.

But having reviewed video evidence it was humble pie rather than Christmas pudding for Mourinho with the Football Association happy that the incident had come to "a sensible conclusion."

Surely Mourinho's apology was incidental -- if welcome? He still brought the game into disrepute by questioning the honesty and integrity of an opposing player. That, however, is OK if you say sorry afterward. If Lord Stevens was guilty of a whitewash, then the F.A. has made sweeping things under the carpet into an art form.

For the second successive game against Newcastle on Wednesday, Mourinho ran along the touchline waving an imaginary yellow card, urging referee Chris Foy to caution Nicky Butt for the foul on Robben that led to Drogba's free-kick winner.

This is something everyone in football hates to see and how sad that the fourth official at Newcastle, Uriah Rennie, was not strong enough to take the appropriate action.

Which was to inform referee Foy that Mourinho was guilty of unsporting behavior and his action could incite the crowd -- as a result, the Chelsea manager should have been sent to the stand.

While match officials are too weak to stand up to Mourinho and other managers who take advantage of this they will continue to act in a way that is not in the game's best interests. The F.A. say it's up to match officials to impose the necessary sanctions but only two or three have the character to do this.

And the managers know it.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.



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