Can football kick out agent's foul play?

IAN CLARKE Claims that underhand dealing goes on in football will hardly shock the world. But Luton boss Mike Newell's vow to “name names” has certainly opened a huge can of worms.

IAN CLARKE

As a player, Mike Newell would have been described by pundits as “a good honest pro” and latterly “the well travelled striker.”

The former frontman served 13 different clubs and scored 120 goals in 530 games and his overall transfer fees totalled £3.5m.

Respectable, yes. World beating, perhaps not.


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Maybe he will be best remembered for his Champions League record of a nine minute hat-trick for Blackburn 10 years ago.

If you believe the old saying, life has only just begun for the 40-year-old Scouser.

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Newell's impact on the pitch could be dwarfed by the impact on the game if his claims of corruption turn out to be true and the authorities are stung into action.

The “bung and backhander” culture among football agents has been suspected for years.

When former Arsenal boss George Graham was sacked in 1995 for accepting a £425,000 payment from agent Rune Hauge, no one really thought he was the sole offender.

Newell has guaranteed the issue will get a fresh and surely in-depth investigation by inferring some people treat the game like a vast cash machine to be plundered at will.

“Have I been offered the chance to take money? Yes, of course I have. And I wouldn't even entertain the idea. Not at all never. I wouldn't say it is a rarity either. If I was open to it, it would be a regular occurrence. All I would have to say is 'What is in it for me?'.”

Pretty clear stuff from the manager of Premiership wannabes Luton, who claimed agents were “the scourge of the game.”

He has made it clear he will name offenders.

“I can back up everything I have said, and I can sleep well at night.”

There seems no reason for Newell to lie. His team put up an excellent performance in last weekend's eight goal thriller against European Champions Liverpool.

And the Hatters are well placed to challenge for promotion to the top flight.

In short, Newell is not someone who needs the oxygen of publicity and would have too much to lose if he turns out to have made up his story.

It is essential he names names - but even then it will be difficult to get watertight evidence.

The FA brought in new agents' regulations from January 1 this year.

They are much stronger and clearer than before and they represent a significant step forward in the governance of agents' activities, introducing measures to improve transparency, address conflicts of interest and increase protection for young players.

Today the Football League is unveiling details of club spending on agents' fees over the past six months.

One “loophole” which many in the game want to see removed is the situation where an agent takes a cut from both the buying and selling club plus from his client for conducting the same transfer.

The FA yesterday revealed it would be looking for Newell to back up his headline-grabbing anonymous claims with some hard facts.

Chief executive Brian Barwick said: “We have contacted Mike and will meet with him early next week.

“These are serious claims. If he has evidence, we will investigate fully.”

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said: “He has a duty to the game to tell us exactly what he knows and if there has been wrongdoing it will be taken up.”

Norwich City chief executive Neil Doncaster said he had been dealing with agents for the eight years he has been involved with football and had no personal experience of seeing bungs or backhanders.

He has regularly stressed agents are an essential part of dealings in football and dedicated his EDP column earlier this season to support his view.

Yesterday, in the light of Newell's claims, Doncaster said: “Like anything else in life, there are good ones (agents) and bad ones. They are a very important part of getting players into clubs. Good agents are very helpful and they provide a good service to clubs and players.”

He did not want to speculate on the possible extent of corruption in the game.

Neil Featherby, a director of Norwich-based Sportlink, has 13 years' experience as an agent and among his clients are former England full back Danny Mills.

Featherby said he had no direct evidence of bungs and backhanders, but strongly assumes football mirrors life as a whole.

“I am sure this happens in all forms of industry and although I have never seen it myself, it would not surprise me if it happened in football.

“For a long time the agent has served a purpose but they have been seen as the fall guy.

“Of course there are bad agents but there are also very professional ones.”

Newell's comments have stirred up a debate in football and Blackburn manager Mark Hughes yesterday described agents as “a necessary evil.”

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said: “There are good managers, bad managers; good players, bad players and good agents and bad agents. It is a very complicated situation but yes, sometimes, some agents are thinking more of themselves than their players.”

Phil Smith, of agents First Artists, said: “We really need a proper investigation to flush it out - for as much as the industry has been cleaned up, we don't feel the FA have policed it properly. If it is still going on we need to know who it is.

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