Stevens puts spotlight on the agents
By David Bond
Last Updated: 4:35pm BST 16/06/2007
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When Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington released his interim 'bungs' report last December he was greeted with howls of "Whitewash". Having spent the previous nine months looking into 362 transfer deals involving 26 Premiership clubs, there was a deep sense of frustration that he had failed to identify one shred of evidence to justify the calls for English football to clean up its act.
Yesterday's final report may have posed more questions than answers but at least the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner finally delivered the names of his chief suspects.
Sure, there were no managers nailed for taking backhanders. Nor was there any hard proof that club chairmen or chief executives have been on the take.
But, there, for the first time in black and white, we had a senior public figure of unquestionable authority and reputation telling us that certain individuals in the Premier League, the richest and most successful club competition in the world, had been involved in suspicious transfer dealing.
Five clubs, three managers and 15 agents were all listed by Lord Stevens and his investigative team from Quest.
Some of the clubs, such as Chelsea and Middlesbrough, will say they have been victims of circumstance, placed in the frame for doing deals with agents who later refused to co-operate with the inquiry. In fact Stevens makes it clear that he has found no evidence of any wrongdoing involving any Premiership club or club official.
That will have been greeted with an enormous sigh of relief from the Premiership clubs yesterday, many of whom have been calling for months for the findings of the inquiry to be made public to lift the shadow of suspicion which has been hanging over all of them.
It is worth remembering that the original terms of reference for the investigation, set up after Sven-Goran Eriksson claimed he knew Premiership managers who took 'bungs', was to establish whether clubs and their officials were indeed involved in such illicit behaviour.
Instead, as Stevens and Quest dug further into the 362 deals conducted between Jan 2004 and Jan 2006, it became clear that all roads led to the agents. That road in turn has led back to three managers and, although the clubs might be in the clear for now, sources last night refused to rule out the possibility of unearthing more evidence which may put them back in the frame.
By far the most damning of Stevens' key findings relate to the former Newcastle and Liverpool manager Graeme Souness and former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce, now in charge at St James' Park.
In addition to highlighting four deals conducted by Souness while he was manager at Newcastle in 2005, the Stevens report goes on to criticise the Scot by claiming that "there remain inconsistencies in the evidence provided by Graeme Souness and Kenneth Shepherd as to their respective roles in transfer negotiations".
Although Shepherd, son of the Newcastle chairman Freddy, is not a Fifa registered agent he works for the agency business Proactive run by Wayne Rooney's agent Paul Stretford.
In a statement issued through his solicitors last night, Souness said: "I cannot understand why my name features in this report. I volunteered full information to Quest as a witness and I have heard nothing further from them."
The deals involving Souness include the £8million signing of Jean Alain Boumsong from Rangers and the £8.5m transfer of Albert Luque from Deportivo la Coruna.
But, in their own statement, Newcastle denied they had done anything wrong in those deals.