UEFA chief fears betting scams after MSI moves

September 11, 2006

UEFA president Lennart Johansson fears an explosion of illegal betting around football if strict new rules on club ownership are not brought in.

Johansson expressed his concern at the mystery surrounding the proposed West Ham takeover, and claimed that only clubs rather than individuals or agencies should be allowed to own players.

Iranian-born businessman Kia Joorabchian has been linked to a possible takeover of West Ham but his financial backers remain unknown.

Joorabchian used to run MSI, a sports marketing firm, which owns Brazilian club Corinthians and also used to own the contracts of Argentina internationals Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.

Both players signed for West Ham from Corinthians, the Brazilian team formerly run by Joorabchian who retained his financial interest in Tevez and Mascherano when he left MSI in June.

Johansson, in Berlin at FIFA conference, told PA Sport: 'We know what's going on and this West Ham case illustrates the problems. We have to do something to make the authorities aware of what's happening and I hope they do something.

'Take illegal betting for instance. If two clubs in the same competition are owned by the same person through `daughter companies' and then you know how much money they can earn through betting.

'I am also not happy with individuals or these agencies owning players and we are doing our utmost to change the system.

'For me it also increases the risk of illegal betting when an individual owns a player.

'I'm a nostalgic character. We had things under control, we had them in order. Now the financiers, the risk-takers, come to buy the clubs and it is a problem.

'Who is the owner of which club, and what happens if they play together in the same competition?'

Johansson admitted that FIFA and UEFA's attempts to tighten up the system of club ownership were being hampered by existing European and national legislation.

He added: 'We are looking into club ownership, illegal betting and a list of other problems to try to come up with proposals but we are only at the beginning of the process to put this in order.

'We are bound by different laws and some clubs claim they are in business not in sport.

'But something has gone wrong. Some clubs have 11 foreigners and the identity of the clubs are being lost. The national teams are getting worse and a few clubs in a few countries are dominating the whole market.'

Meanwhile, Johansson insisted he would resist any attempt to bring in a qualification group for European Championship minnows, as has been suggested following San Marino's 13-0 defeat by Germany last week.

Johansson said: 'I am completely against this - it gives the small countries a chance in life to play against a good team. But look back over the last 10 years and Italy and Germany have both lost against small countries.

'It helps their development, the players gain experience and come back and are better players.

'Yes, you get high scores sometimes against teams like San Marino and Liechtenstein but let them live, for them it is such an event. We should have solidarity.

'What happened when the Faroe Islands beat Austria - they almost have a public holiday on every anniversary. It's so important.'

The Premier League and the Football Association say they will continue to react should there be any suspicion of a transfer not being above board.

Lord Stevens is due to release his findings on football corruption next month after an inquiry was ordered by the Premier League.

However, in the meantime, the BBC Panorama programme is threatening to lift the lid off `bungs'.

Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson countered: 'If anyone has any evidence of wrong doing in regard to alleged irregular payments in transfers, please hand over the evidence to Lord Stevens.

'He is conducting a very thorough and very serious inquiry into this matter.'

The FA also state if they were informed of an alleged breach of rules they would take action.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore set up the independent inquiry in the wake of allegations by Sven-Goran Eriksson, made during the News of the World's `fake sheikh' sting on the then England manager, and Luton boss Mike Newell.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp has insisted he has nothing to fear from any investigation.

Redknapp has admitted meeting a man masquerading as a German businessman and who was, in fact, part of the BBC's Panorama team working on a programme set to be screened next Monday.

'I spoke to this bloke for about five minutes, if that,' said Redknapp. 'He told me he had some world-class players he could bring to England and I said `good luck to you mate'.

'We chatted while all the Portsmouth apprentices sat around and that was about it.

'He went away and I thought that was the end of it. Now I find I am at the centre of some big investigation, yet again.

'I haven't seen any evidence of anything and am not worried in the slightest. There is no evidence against me. I don't even know why my name has been dragged into all this.'