Football is a remarkably resilient sport, having weathered a number of scandals over the past few years. This time, however, Big Sam and his ilk may help to reveal widespread corruption; a product of the game’s age of greed.
67 days. It’s not unprecedented in football – Brian Clough spent less time as Leeds manager – but, as Alan Shearer so eloquently put it, England have hit rock bottom. Big Sam’s dismissal from the job he’s coveted for so many years after only one match is a result of nothing less than arrogance and stupidity. At the pinnacle of his career, Sam thought he was untouchable. It may have been a little harsh, but the FA have sent a powerful message that they won’t tolerate any form of impropriety – something that may prove vital over the coming weeks. The Daily Telegraph has promised more revelations to come. Until they release the results of their investigations, we can only speculate how deep the greed goes.
English football has been relatively scandal-free. Other sports have had their doping and bribery, and Italian football was beset by Calciopoli a decade ago, during which systemic rigging was unveiled and Juventus were stripped of two Serie A titles. Although it is difficult to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson spending the last twenty years fixing the Premier League in favour of Manchester United, logic dictates that the hands of managers and administrators in the world’s richest football league are not as squeaky-clean as the absence of newspaper exposés might suggest. A slew of Premier League managers are set to be identified as recipients of ‘bungs’ by the Daily Telegraph – a number of these may be in line to replace Big Sam as England boss. It is likely that the growing complexity of the relationships between managers, owners, and more importantly agents, has created an environment rife for exploitation. The Telegraph are already reporting that a number of Premier League managers have taken significant cuts out of transfer deals. Big Sam is just the tip of the iceberg.
Super-agents like Jorge Mendes (José Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa) and Mino Raiola (Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Mario Balotelli) have an almost sinister level of control over transfer deals. The whole system depends of ‘I’ll-scratch-your-back’ deals. Mendes has in the past been linked to the third-party ownership of players, advising firms on how to purchase a stake in players he represented. Who knows what corruption is yet to emerge from the murky relationships that these agents, great and small, have cultivated? They operate within a culture of greed that will only grow as more and more money is poured into the game. Big Sam, like Mendes and Raiola, is a symptom of the rampant commercialisation of football. As transfer fees and sponsorship deals rise, so too does the potential for corruption.
It is almost suspicious that so few cases of doping have been unearthed in football.
With the exception of the FIFA bribery case, which seems to have left the organisation relatively unscathed, there are surely major scandals waiting to come out of the woodwork. It is almost suspicious that so few cases of doping, for example, have been unearthed in football. During Operation Puerto, a widespread investigation into the use of illegal substances in Spanish sport, eyebrows were raised when football seemed to have received comparatively little attention. Cyclist Jesus Manzano, who was implicated in the operation, noted that he had seen a number of high-profile footballers visit the offices of Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the heart of the scandal. Arsène Wenger, too, has claimed that football has a serious doping problem. It is known that the German team that won the 1954 world cup was doping; it is impossible to believe that they were the last to do so. Football is due for a doping scandal, but it seems to be money, rather than pharmaceuticals, that is the game’s drug of choice.
With defeat at the hands of Iceland still fresh in the minds, and the full extent of this episode of corruption to be revealed in the coming days, English football may be about to reach its absolute nadir. In searching for the next England manager, the FA ought to do its utmost to lure Arsène Wenger away from Arsenal. Nobody knows English football better then him, and – due perhaps in part to his consummate stubbornness – nobody has a cleaner, more consistent image. He is unlikely to be implicated in the Telegraph’s investigations. England will not win the 2018 World Cup, or Euro 2020. A team with Arsène Wenger at the helm, however, will surely give a more respectable showing at both than under Big Sam.
We’ve always known that football is a morally ambiguous industry. Big Sam’s actions merit a fundamental rethink of the way the FA operates. In the increasingly corporatised environment of English football, where transfer fees number in the tens of millions of pounds, where managers command higher and higher wages, where conniving agents pull the strings to earn as large a cut as possible, Sam and his kind may become the rule, rather than the exception. The Premier League and the FA restlessly clamour over ways to line their pockets; perhaps, in this scandal, they are simply reaping what they have sown.