Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Boum Shakes The Game

It's Tuesday, it must be Bent Football Day on TSA. This week, however, is different. Usually we impoverished commentators must be content to parade around the Sodom and Gomorrah of professional football shouting "Repent!" as the harlots within laugh in our faces.

Now, thanks to the fearless Untouchables of the City of London Police economic crime squad, the long arm of the law picks up a placard inscribed "Ye Shall be Smited", and joins the struggle.

The raids on Newcastle United, Portsmouth and Rangers yesterday are still the subject of cautious reportage, the clubs "extending every co-operation to police" and commenting no further, other than in the case of Newcastle's new owner Mike Ashley, who insisted that the club itself was not part of the investigation.

The stench of corruption in football has been gathering over the past 18 months or so, including, but not starting from, Sven Goran Eriksson's revelation to the News of the World's 'Fake Sheikh' that he had been offered 'bungs', former Luton manager Mike Newell's similar claims, the BBC'S Panorama documentary on the subject and the recent Lord Stevens 'Quest' report into transfer irregularities. Yesterday's actions by the police would suggest that the odour has at last become unbearable.

Of the 17 transfers that Lord Stevens felt unable to "sign off" on, two of them involved the three clubs raided yesterday: Jean-Alain Boumsong's move from Rangers to Newcastle, and Amady Faye's from Portsmouth to St.James's Park, both in January 2005. While Faye's transfer does not appear particularly unusual (he cost Newcastle about £2 million, having been bought by Portsmouth for £1.5 million two years previously, and there were other clubs interested in the player), Boumsong's did raise some eyebrows.

Both players were among Graham Souness's first purchases as Newcastle manager, having taken over from the sacked Bobby Robson in September 2004. Boumsong had moved from Auxerre to Rangers on a free transfer in the summer of 2004, in a deal negotiated by French-based agent Willie McKay.

The transfer appeared to be a major coup for the Scottish club, as, according to Boumsong's own claims, he had been the subject of inquiries from the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Inter Milan.

Shortly prior to his signature for Rangers, McKay had explained the highly-rated defender's decision to plump for the backwater of the SPL in preference to the major European leagues in which he was supposed to have suitors. "Everyone is surprised he is going to Rangers, but I'll tell you why he is," said Mackay. "You have to know the Cameroon people like I do, having worked with the likes of Marc-Vivien Foe and Rigobert Song."

"Jean-Alain was born in Cameroon, he wants security, his contract is up in the summer and he wants to know where he is going to play. He wants to play in Europe. He has looked at what Henrik Larsson has done at Celtic and knows he can earn respect in Scotland. More and more, the top players know if they go to a Chelsea or a Liverpool, they will be in a rotation system. At Rangers he knows he will be king."

After positing this less than convincing theory, McKay also explained the benefits of the deal to Rangers: "If Rangers give him a five-year-contract at£45,000 a week it is going to cost them around £4m in wages for the first two years - and he won't be there for the third because he will be sold on for £8m."

The only flaw in McKay's prescience was in how quickly this scenario would materialise. Just months after joining Rangers, Newcastle's £8 million offer for the player's services was accepted.
Surprise at the size of the fee was exacerbated by the fact that Newcastle were the only bidders in this particular auction, and its timing was perfect for a club in Rangers' financial straits. The player's performances for Newcastle would soon further perplex Magpies fans wondering at the value for money the player represented.

The Stevens inquiry's comments on the transfer were as follows: "There remains inconsistencies in evidence provided by Graeme Souness - a former manager of the club - and Kenneth Shepherd (son of Freddie Shepherd, Newcastle United's former chairman) - apparently acting in an undefined role but not as a club official - as to their respective roles in transfer negotiations." On McKay: "The inquiry is still awaiting clarification from agent Willie McKay".

With the arrival of the Her Majesty's finest at Ibrox and St.James's yesterday, it seems that a the questions arising from this strange deal could soon be answered.

Note: Clarification was also sought by Quest from McKay with regard to the transfers of Benjani Mwaruwari and Aliou Cisse to Portsmouth, two of the other transfers on which Stevens was unable to 'sign off'.

McKay responded thusly: "I'm shocked at the way my full co-operation with the inquiry has been presented in this report. I have not paid any bungs or made any unlawful payments to anyone."

The enquiry later clarified the comments on Souness: "We wish to make it clear that inconsistencies did not exist within the evidence given by Graeme Souness to Quest concerning his role in transfers covered by the Inquiry during his time as manager of Newcastle United FC and neither the Premier League nor do Quest have any concerns in this regard."

The Boumsong deal was not the first time Souness had purchased players from the club at which he began his managerial career. Mark Walters joined Souness at Liverpool from Rangers in 1991, but more recently, in 2001 Tugay was signed for £1.3 million, then in 2003 he paid Rangers £1.4 million for Lorenzo Amoruso and £7.5 million for Barry Ferguson while Blackburn manager.



Anonymous Alan said...

Well written Tom. While none of us who follow the game are remotely surprised at how badly, at the very least, the whole transfer game 'smells', it's very useful and informative to have a sensible overview of this particular chapter laid out in this way. Tip o' the hat Sir.

10:15 p.m.  

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