In another guest editorial for the Observer bound to attract the attention of the F.A., Crystal Palace’s Simon Jordan adds a chairman’s perspective to the recent bung allegations raised by Luton manager Mike Newell, as well as reminding one and all that Palace were really fucked up under Mark Goldberg and Terry Venables
How brave is it really to refer to bung culture in the loosest terms, then to blame the problem on faceless agents, backed by no actionable evidence? And how much braver would it have been for Newell to focus, once his throwaway remark had snowballed, not on the comic-book parasites who offer the bungs, but on his colleagues – the managers who take them?
Rune Hauge back in the 1990s represented the lowest form of agent life (and that’s low), but George Graham, manager of one of the country’s biggest clubs, was far worse for empowering him. In the simplest terms, take away corruptible managers and officials, and you take away the problem. And that’s far easier a concept to get your head around than the proposed alternative: Fifa weeding through every agent worldwide, choosing the church-going ones and culling the rest.
How widespread is it? In our experience at Crystal Palace, Iain Dowie has been offered money by agents twice, and both times has involved me. The agents were taken out of the process: given no time by Iain, no time by me, and no money by my club. That’s all you need to do. It’s not dramatic, not ‘brave’, but if you give these people no openings, they’re irrelevant, no more scary or important than a dodgy estate agent. They have no way of getting at you unless you invite them in.
None of this is meant to underestimate the harm malign agents can do, or to undermine Newell’s basic complaint about the sheer volume of them constantly trying to find a way through. To know what they’re capable of when a club opens up, you really had to be a Palace fan back in the late 90s when Mark Goldberg’s la-la land ownership took the club into administration. Agents were crawling all over him like engorged maggots.
In 12 months, Goldberg lost £1m on agent fees. He paid Boca Juniors £187,000 for defender Walter del Rio, plus fees to multiple agents totalling £450,000. It then emerged that the player had been available on a free, and that documents showing his registration with Boca had been forged by a third party in Argentina. The money was never traced, and the player moved on after one league start.
He paid Israeli club Maccabi Nevealon £800,000 for unknown defender David Amsalem, via a third party. Only £11,600 ever arrived at Maccabi Nevealon, and the player was released after six starts. He signed Chinese players Fan Zhiyi (above) and Sun Jihai – now at Manchester City – for £1m, and only £600,000 arrived in China. He signed two bewildered wonderkids at the same time as Del Rio – Pablo Rodrigues and Cristian Ledesma from Argentinos Juniors – who went home before kicking a ball. The money paid for them wasn’t traced.
The High Court ruled that all those deals were a result of corrupt agents and, to paraphrase a bit, a stunningly naive owner. But the manager at the time – the man who recommended all 13 incoming transfers to Goldberg – was absolved. As the report put it: ‘The High Court ruled that Terry Venables was entirely innocent of any wrong-doing.’