A football agent bragged how secret “gentlemen’s agreements” used to secure corrupt transfers deals for rising soccer stars would make him and his business associates millionaires, a jury heard today.
During the second day of the so-called ‘football for sale’ trial, Southwark Crown Court was played a series of covert recordings made by a Daily Telegraph undercover reporter who had set up a fake sports company to try to expose corruption in the game.
Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pagliara, 64, told Claire Newell, the reporter, that: “We become millionaires by gentlemen’s agreements.”
He was earlier recorded saying he had opened numerous Swiss bank accounts for football managers to receive “bungs” to secure transfer deals. The Italian agent was also said to have been filmed claiming he had given Sir Alex Ferguson a £30,000 Rolex watch as a backhander for fixing a match between Manchester United and Juventus.
Brian O’Neill, QC, for the prosecution, said Mr Pagliara and his fellow football agent, Dax Price, 48, had a “plan” to break football rules by pretending a player was owned by a club, when they were really “third party” owners who could profit when the footballer was sold on to higher league clubs.
At a meeting with the two “experienced football agents” and Tommy Wright, the then assistant head coach of Barnsley Football Club, Ms Newell handed over an envelope to the coach containing £5,000 cash. It is claimed in return Mr Wright provided “commercially sensitive” information about his players, some of whom were to be encouraged to sign up to the two agents.
In one taped conversation played to court, Mr Price explained how Alfie Mawson, a Barnsley footballer who has been “playing unbelievable” scoring goals despite being a defender, could see his value soar to between five and 10 million pounds.
Mr Price told the reporter: “Now, basically, we’ve got a suggestion to make… Well, Tommy came up with an idea which would be unbelievable. Because this player, Tommy said he’s the best defender outside the Premier League.”
Explaining how “everyone wants him” - including Sunderland, Bournemouth and Burnley - Mr Price said they should “give £2 million for Alfie” before selling him at the next transfer window for £6 million, a figure later estimated could rise to £10 million, netting them 30 per cent - or “three or four million”.
The recording also showed how they could persuade the player his agent was “s**t” because he had failed to secure him his true value during the transfer window before persuading him to sign up to their agency.
However, during a meeting at Barnsley FC, Patrick Cryne, then the owner of Barnsley, raised questions about third party ownership of players, explaining how it was banned.
Mr Pagliara, who was posing as an interpreter for an Italian football executive at that meeting, told Mr Cryne: “What normally happens, and it does happen, he said, is a sponsorship agreement with the club, and on a separate part, a gentleman’s contract, as such based on a gentleman’s agreement, because it wouldn’t be lodged in the Football Association.”
Afterwards, Mr Price was recorded referring to Mr Cryne as a “straight guy”, adding: “So obviously, we are trying to corrupt him. And obviously, but make out we’re not trying to corrupt him, but we are. It’s just like that.”
Third party ownership of players was banned by the Football Association in 2009 and then Fifa, football’s governing body, in 2015.
In an email, Mr Pagliara told the journalist: “Third party ownership is the driving force of football.”
In September 2016, the Telegraph published a series of reports arising from its investigation. Mr O’Neill said Sam Allardyce, the then manager of the England squad, resigned his position as a result.
Mr Wright, 53, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, denies two counts of accepting a bribe. Mr Pagliara, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and Mr Price, from Sittingbourne, Kent, deny two counts of paying and facilitating a bribe.
The trial continues.