After a 9½-week romance, the Football Association woke up feeling kind of dirty.
Bribes (quaintly called “bungs” in the lexicon of English football).
Players gambling on football.
Third-party ownership rules being circumvented.
Two hundred thousand bucks (plus first-class tickets and hotel) for the England manager to fly out to Asia, give a “keynote speech” and have him hang out at the bar for a few hours.
The Daily Telegraph’s undercover sting of Sam Allardyce leaves the English FA (or simply the “Football Association” as they like to call themselves) once again searching for a new manager and the masses tut-tutting at Big Sam.
If you watched the video and read the transcript you might be left wondering what exactly he did wrong, other than coming across as crass, gossipy and, at one point, silly. The image of him draping a napkin over his face when someone brings up the subjects of bungs and saying “Oh, oh you’re not, do not, I haven’t heard that, I haven’t heard that, you stupid man. … You can have that conversation when I’m not here. … You can’t go there anymore. … Don’t ever go there.” borders on the hilarious.
Even his gravest statement — when he discusses third-party ownership of players’ economic rights and how agents and investors get around the rules — is rather innocuous. True, third-party investment has been illegal in England since 2008 and worldwide since 2015, but it’s equally true that it’s hugely difficult to police and it still goes on in covert form.
Yes, Allardyce illustrated one method of getting around the regulations — another one is agents or third-party investors buying shares in smaller clubs — and technically he is revealing how to break a rule, but it’s not as if he’s giving away the recipe for baking crystal meth in your kitchen. He’s simply explaining how it’s done and it’s something anyone with a primary school education could work out on their own anyway.
But maybe that’s enough to get the boot.
“I don’t know whether he has broken any rules, that is for the [FA’s ongoing investigation] to decide,” FA chairman Greg Clarke. “But he admitted he had been foolish and we agreed the situation was unrecoverable.”
You’re left to speculate whether the FA and Allardyce feared there might be more to come in the Telegraph investigation — or whether, as former FA chief Greg Dyke puts it, England managers have to be “whiter than white” in their ethical behavior.
If that’s the case — unfortunate use of language aside — this high ethical bar is evidently relatively new. After all, they’ve happily employed England managers who have been investigated for tax fraud (Fabio Capello), been accused of serious fraud (Terry Venables), had affairs with other FA employees (Sven-Goran Eriksson) and been duped in eerily similar ways to Allardyce (Sven again).
The case against Capello was ultimately settled. Venables, once he left the England job, was later disqualified from being a company director. Eriksson didn’t break any laws. But then neither did Allardyce. And if you’re talking “whiff of scandal” certainly the cases of his three predecessors qualify.
Yet none of them was shown the door this quickly. All were given the “innocent until proven guilty” benefit.
But heck, maybe the “whiter than white” thing is a new policy. Fair enough.
Yet if that’s the case, you wonder about where they put the threshold and what was different in July when they appointed Allardyce in the first place. Remember, he was one of the subjects of the 2006 bungs inquiry conducted by Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington. Allardyce was cleared of wrongdoing and, sure, he might have been extraordinarily unlucky to have been accused, but folks who are “whiter than white” generally don’t end up being investigated in the first place. Nor do they generally choose guys like Mark Curtis to represent them. Again, Curtis has never been found guilty of wrongdoing, but he’s had a fair few allegations lobbed his way in the past two decades.
It might be the nature of the beast. It might be that these guys are victims of jealousy, of hearsay, of the fact that some football folk can’t help but continually bad-mouth one another in private. It might be that the FA, in July, were satisfied with the fact that neither Allardyce nor Curtis were ever found guilty of anything.
But then please don’t peddle the ideal England manager as being “whiter than white” in his conduct.
“Whiter than white” means the good fortune of never even having been accused, let alone investigated, of wrongdoing. That’s what it means.
Now Gareth Southgate, the under-21 boss, will take charge of England through the new year and, in the meantime, we’ll get another managerial search. A scan of the early candidates doesn’t exactly have you doing backflips. If they’re going to stick by the “whiter than white” standard, they’d better do their research on each and every one of them.
Just to be sure, of course.
Former England captain Alan Shearer vented his frustration to the BBC, saying: “I didn’t think England could stoop any lower from what happened in the summer at the Euros. Now here we are, a laughingstock of world football.”
To some degree, you can live with ineptness on the playing field, if it’s accompanied by effort and good faith. Ineptness in judgment and decision-making of this magnitude is much tougher to swallow.