By Walter Broeckx
It has been a rather interesting year for football in Belgium. Belgium, as you may recall, reached third place in the world cup, but at the same time not all was well in Belgian football. It might not be a story that has moved across the Channel but in 2018 a rather big scandal hit Belgian football.
In fact, an operation from the justice department called “Clean hands” shook the whole Belgian football world. It all started over a year ago with the start of an investigation about money laundering and tax evasion. The police were given permission to tap the phones of a few “player managers” (“agents” as they are called in the UK). People like Mino Raiola the “manager” or “agent” of Pogba and Lukaku.
And the phone taps of Mogi Bayat and Dejan Veljkovic soon turned up a few interesting results.
Now I am not going to bore you with the financial aspects of the whole scandal. The court will do their job and so will the taxman.
But the police, when listening to those “player managers” found out something else as well. First they found out that at least one of them tried to arrange the outcome of a few matches that involved the relegation battle. To be precise this “player manager” tried to fix a match between two teams in which he had a few of his players under contract.
Now the general rule is that when you are a player and you are being contacted to fix a match you immediately have to report this to your club and to the football association, in this case the KBVB. But no player did it at the time – as we might expect if the match fixing proposal came via the player’s agent. The legal battle about this is still to be decided as linked to the match fixing, one team actually went down and one stayed in the top division.
And now comes the for me most interesting part of the operation. Because the investigators found out that one of the managers (Veljkovic) also had on a regular basis, contact with top referees in Belgium. In fact he had regular contact with two FIFA referees! One of them, Delfriere, has been named referee of the year three times! So these are rather big and important referees in Belgian football.
Now from the phone taps they found out that Veljkovic phoned one of the referees (Vertenten) and told him that it would be very convenient if Eupen lost their match at Antwerp (a team not involved in the affair, at least so far as we know). In this particular match Vertenten gave a penalty against Eupen and the foul was just outside the penalty area as could be seen on TV. But as last season VAR was not present in every single match in Belgium, and so the referee’s “error” led to a first goal for Antwerp who went on to win 2-0.
As far as we know (up to now) Veljkovic didn’t ask Vertenten to fix the match for him, but the fact that he talked about the result and wanted outcome is already a bridge too far. Vertenten should have asked the KBVB to remove himself from that match but he didn’t, and therefore he cast a shadow of doubt about himself in terms of him being unbiased.
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As for Delfriere the phone tap resulted in him getting an extra discount when he went to buy a new car! Delfriere and Veljkovic went together to a car dealer who was a friend of Veljkovic and he gave Delfriere the extra discount of 1% off the price and this resulted in him getting a discount of around €300.
In each case as soon as the KBVB heard about these events they immediately withdrew the refs from their matches and a few days later fired them.
So in Belgium referees get fired when they get in touch with agents (or “player managers” – which is probably the phrase that ought to be used in English since it more explicitly shows the relationship between the “agent” and the player) on too friendly a basis. Mind you they didn’t find out that the referees having contact with club managers!
Now everyone can see that having contact with club managers is even more dangerous and suspicious. Because agents only have the interest of their clients (players) in mind and as their players play for various clubs they have different interests.
But club managers; that is another thing. They only think of their own club. And if they get too friendly with a referee… well the end is near.
Indeed I even seem to remember stories in Mark Halsey’s autobiography that a certain manager got the phone numbers of referees and rang them. That will probably have been to ask about the health and well being of their wives and kids I guess…
But I think it is clear for everyone to see the difference between a referee having contact with a club manager or with a player’s agent.
The fact is there should be no contact with either person. Referees should not be in touch with players, managers, agents… anyone!
And thus we can ask ourselves: what has been done in England to investigate the possible contact between club managers or player agents and referees? Has the FA, the PGMO or the PL started an investigation about these things? And if so what was the outcome?
Because of the secrecy that surrounds PGMO it has hard to say what is happening but it seems that nothing is investigated in England…. unlike Belgium, where they tapped phones and then found out about the match fixing and attempts to influence referees as an aside. Or as in Italy where they tapped phones and found out about the calciopoli scandal.