Sam Allardyce has been sacked as manager of the England football team. He departs the national side with a 100% win record, although since he was only in post for one match, that’s not saying much.
After 63 days in the job Allardyce was abruptly sacked following a expose in the Daily Telegraph.
Reporters posing as Far Eastern businessmen secretly filmed “Big Sam” over dinner and drinks. In the film, Allardyce negotiates a £400,000 fee to appear as a keynote speaker (he is very adamant that he be “keynote”) at four corporate events in Singapore and Hong Kong. He also mocked his predecessor, the ill-fated Roy Hodgson, and criticised the FA for wasting money on Wembley stadium.
All very awkward viewing for his bosses.
What the Telegraph has focussed on is a point in the conversation where Allardyce seems to suggest that it is easy enough to get round the rules that forbid “third-party ownership”.
This practice, banned by the FA, involves an agency or corporation owning the economic rights of a football player, independently of the club that buys or sells them.
Third-party ownership is common in Latin America, where clubs are often on such a perilous financial footing that they can only “own” footballers in part, with parasitic agencies still calling the shots and creaming off a profit from “their” player. Despite the practice being banned in England, Allardyce says getting round the restriction is “no problem”.
After the story broke, the FA fired Allardyce with surprising speed. Some have been puzzled, or even outraged, by the swiftness with which they ditched their new manager. After all, Allardyce didn’t actually agree to anything against the rules, or even seem that he was about to do so. The worst you can say about him is that he seemed very relaxed about describing the ease with which the rules could be avoided.
Guardian football journalist Daniel Taylor thinks the reason for the FA’s uncharacteristic decisiveness is probably to do with their concerns about the scandal broadening out. The Telegraph claims that several managers are guilty of taking bribes, and presumably the governing body of the sport feel it would be untenable to sit in judgement on an unfolding corruption scandal if they employ a man so blasé about bending the rules.
Is there a socialist response to all this?
So long as football is run as a business (a business awash with astronomic amounts of cash), it will inevitably be vulnerable to corruption. It was ever thus, except now the money involved in the game is unprecedented.
A minimum demand for socialists might be for democratisation of the clubs, with fans, staff and communities having more say and scrutiny over how clubs operate.
It’s doubtful that this would eliminate the problem in itself (can a democratic committee prevent a manager from taking a backhander from an agent on the quiet?), but it would at least be a start.