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Much ado about nothing – Kirsty loses the plot


Emirates

By Boris Mellor
June 2 2006

Kirsty Wark (Newsnight) could not restrain her enthusiasm in her reporting of Beverengate last night. They (Arsenal) could get relegated "couldn’t they" she kept pleading.

 Clive Betts Sheffield Wednesday supporter and occasional Labour MP wouldn’t answer her. Of course he knew it was twaddle, but envy had got the better of him and he probably wished that such a possibility was on the cards. Not to be deterred Kirsty kept shouting it out – and Betts kept ignoring the plaintive cry – in the end the director cut the scene and moved on.

What was the actual evidence of wrongdoing?

A contract between Arsenal and an organisation called Goal for a loan of £200,000. We weren’t allowed to see more than the top and bottom of the document. What lay in between was left to our, or Kirsty’s rather, imagination. Nobody explained why the Belgians investigation had led to no action at all. Probably because no laws were broken, but facts are awkward things that can spoil a good story.

So that was the facts – which Arsenal confirmed – they had made a loan of some million pounds to help stabilise Beveren. Not enough to fill out 30 minutes, so we got lots of footage of how awful it was that Africans were gaining entry into the UK because of the lax laws of the Belgium. One African footballer, pixelated and with disguised broken voice told a heartrending story of how he had been made to play for a top UK club for thousands of pounds a week. (I made that last bit up, but if the BBC can, so can I). Every now and then we got shots of the new stadium – the suggestion being that the returns on Arsenal’s one million-pound loan was paying for it.

So what is the big deal exactly?

Kirsty claimed that there was a conflict of interest – that Arsenal and Beveren could play each other in the CL. Ha ha. It was suggested Arsenal had broken Fifa or FA rules.

Yet this morning on Radio 5 sports lawyer Mel Goldberg told Five Live Sport: "UEFA and Fifa have rules about clubs owning shares in foreign teams.

"I don't think that's happened here because Arsenal say, rightly, they have no control of a foreign club." Goldberg told 5 Live "There are two sets of rules you need to look at. "One is the Premier League rules which prevent clubs owning shares or an interest in another Premiership or Football League club. That hasn't happened here.

"Then there are UEFA and Fifa rules which are similar, about clubs owning shares in foreign teams, and I don't think that's happened either."

Control really an issue?

Control or ownership of other clubs, and of course the use of feeder clubs is not unique to Arsenal. ENIC control 29.9% of shares in Spurs, 43% of AEK Athens, 11.8% of FC Basel, 20.2% of Glasgow Rangers, 96.7% of Slavia Prague and 99.9% of Vicenza.

South American football journalists recently feared that Roman Abramovitch was trying to set up a network of feeder clubs around the globe, so that he can buy and allocate players around the world until needed, and then move them onto Chelsea. Indeed Czech Jiril Jarosik joined Chelsea from CSKA, and revealed that CSKA players considered themselves Chelsea ’s reserve team. Abramovich is the major shareholder in Sibneft, CSKA’s sponsor, but has been cleared of any "official" involvement by FIFA. FIFA directives do not allow one man to own more than one club at one time, but the FIFA investigation led nowhere. If, and it’s a big If, Arsenal are guilty of any breach of the rules they are not alone. Maybe the rules need clarifying – but why the hysteria now?

Why break the story now?

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the BBC broke the story the night before David Dein was due for re-election to the FA. Or just as Chelsea finally got permission to sign John Obi Mikel. That would make an interesting Newsnight – tales of kidnapping and death threats are far more exciting than a million-pound loan. If the issue is that money is dominating the league then there must be fatter targets.

Secrecy

Arsenal have always been secretive – as a private company they do not have to reveal details of what dealings they make. There is nothing particularly suspicious in the fact that the Board refused to own up to its dealings. It is the habit of a lifetime, not a good one, and it is probably part of the cause of the current hype. There is no doubt that more transparency in football is desirable, and it should apply to all clubs. Indeed if the deal had been made public at the time then all this would have been avoided.

UEFA not involved

A UEFA spokesman said they were powerless to act but that the recent independent review of European football would look to address the issues raised by the investigation. He added: "These are all issues which will need to be solved in the interests of the game because you can break no rule and no law but at the same time most fans would acknowledge that there is a problem here."

The real problem

Indeed there is a problem but it’s not the only problem. The right for all footballers to play anywhere they chose would solve most of this issue. Beveren has become an issue because of the UK’s policy of keeping African players out. To my mind this was more the issue for the BBC, part of their general anti immigrant hysteria of the past few months. Kirsty Wark lost the plot, the relegation issue was just a red herring.

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