When is a rigged match not a rigged match?
When the rigging is perpetrated by the bookmakers and/or the footballing authorities. That's when.
There is a flip side to this scenario - woe betide anybody else frigging about and rigging...
UEFA is currently investigating fifteen matches from the early phases of this season which revealed suspicious betting patterns. The events are from the Champions League, UEFA Cup and Euro 2008. These matches form part of a larger group of 26 "hot" matches over the last eighteen months but only this season's corruptions will be investigated.
Sieve-like in extremis, the leaks have been emanating from UEFA headquarters regarding the matches under review. We are told that countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, the Baltic region and Georgia are seemingly the main protagonists. Inevitably, the inquest is leading to some of the perpetrators breaking cover or being exposed by domestic political opponents as sport and politics are inextricably linked throughout much of Europe.
For example, the Albanian Sports and Culture Minister Ylli Pango has accused the chairman of the Albanian FA, Armando Duka, of throwing the last two Euro 2008 qualifiers against Belarus and Romania. "There are clear suspicions that both matches might have been sold by the president of our National football federation" stated Ylli (feeling a bit illy). Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has also accused the country's football leadership of "being linked with mafia groups rigging football matches for their own profits." Both matches were certainly of interest in the trading rooms. Belarus arrived in Tirana having successfully managed to land a major internal gamble when losing at home to Luxembourg (the visitors first competitive victory since 1995!). The Albanian FA have close links with their Turkish counterparts and, once Turk Bülent Demirlek was selected to officiate, the deal was feasible. Albania lost 4-2 with victory being decided by Romashchenko's penalty. Belarus, in their final two home matches, managed to lose to a side ranked 152 in the world before beating a nation ranked in the Top 10. Albania's 6-1 defeat in Romania four days later was a very different betting scam. For the Albania/ Belarus match, all the conspicuous insider money was hedged out to Asia in the very early market phases; for the Romania event, the scam was perpetrated at half time. In eighteen second half minutes, the Albanians managed to concede 5 goals with the obligatory two penalties and a pair of sendings off thrown in - both penalties were conceded by one Nevil Dede who completed his bosses work by getting himself dismissed!
So, these are just two of the suspicious events and we isolate them merely as a demonstration of the corrupt structures utilised elsewhere in Europe to land major betting scams. Euro 2008 Group G was certainly a highly manipulated group but the machinations were insignificant when compared with the shenanigans with kunas and shekels in England's qualifying group, Group E.
We have highlighted previously the rampant corruption in this group with five of the nations working either together or in isolation to achieve both short-term financial gains via illegal betting and longer term qualification targets utilising suitcases of money no doubt gained through the aforementioned underground gambling activities. Now, I'm quite partial to suitcases of money but I don't think that it is in the interests of the integrity of football as a whole to allow competitive events to be determined by issues relating to the illicit cashflows of the match officials and selected players.
It is quite correct that UEFA exposes these abuses but there is a problem of hierarchy here. It is easy to lambast lower tier nations for nest feathering but what about the Big 4?
In order to achieve the correct UEFA Seeding for the Finals, Germany deliberately lost to the Czech Republic prior to showing equal lack of determination in failing to beat Wales. Having won 16 and lost only 1 of their previous 20 home internationals, surely suspicions must have been raised in Nyon. A cursory glance at the betting markets would demonstrate that both these two "hot" matches were displaying their temperature both on the field of play and through illegal betting. The Germany/ Czech Republic opened at Ger -1.0 in Asia (ie you could buy or sell the Germans at a supremacy of one goal). And sell they did! Within the first twenty four hours of trading, over £200 million had been placed on the Czechs in the Far East and the market had moved to -0.0,0.5. Dynamics of threequarters of a goal within a day are conspicuous by their absence in our 16 years of databases of Asian market activity. For the Wales horserace, the market was placid until the earlier matches that might effect the German seeding had been completed and then a huge punt against a German victory surfaced globally in the final hour leading up to kick off. Our private information shows that both these betting scams were German in origin and, yet, UEFA inform us that no qualification issues regarding Euro 2008 were compromised by the alleged bent matches. Really? Obviously, structural implications of Germany's deliberate underperformance abound but a more pertinent route into UEFA's ostrichness with regard to Germany and illegal betting is evident. Any exposure of Germany would publicly portray the lack of institutional professionalism demonstrated by UEFA in the Seeding and Tournament Rules. File it away...
Anybody who watched the Scotland versus Italy game without doubting the integrity of match official extraordinaire, Manuel Gonzalez, cannot be aware of the rules of the game - a blight they share with the Spanish official. Yet, Snr Gonzalez obviously knew the rules of UEFA's real game namely, Italy (the World Cup holders) MUST qualify for the Euro 2008 Finals. This realisation also found its way to the betting markets so, in effect, UEFA's corruption of qualification resulted in professional traders profiting from an analysis of the UEFA corruption. Consequently, the only manner that UEFA is different to, say, Albania is that they rig the matches but leave others to do the profit maximisation from illegal gambling. Fin d'histoire...
Which brings us to England... Well over fifty per cent of the matches in Group E were "hot". The outcomes were correlated with betting patterns and some English players, the authorities and bookmakers were all actively involved in creative revenue streams. There has been no sign of any real evaluation of England's resultant failure by the mainstream media with the easy targets like the FA and the players being the culprits of choice. As ever, there was not one iota of linkage to illegal gambling. Similarly with the Liverpool versus Besiktas game which is allegedly one of UEFA's suspect 15 games. This record Champions League score of 8-0 followed Liverpool's defeat to the same team less than a fortnight earlier and the match data shows that the Scousers had 19 shots to their opponents one! The betting markets were also aware of the manipulations and the match represented a one-way betting market from when the prices were first chalked up - some psychos even bet heavily on a 8-0 scoreline! The British media and UEFA are busily reporting that, firstly, there is no indication that Liverpool did anything untoward. Really? And, secondly, UEFA now claim that this match is not on their list of fifteen after all. Uefa's director of communications, William Gaillard, helpfully confirmed the selective nature of any inquiry by stating: "None of the matches on the list are high-profile. They are all in the preliminary rounds of our competitions." So, no German, Italian, English or Spanish games then but excessive microfocus on the little fish in their microeconomies.
And this is the crux of the issue. The institutional spin is that UEFA and its leading member nations do not do corruption. Leaving aside Italy's calciocaos, Germany's match official Robert Hoyzer being imprisoned for fixing Bundesliga games to the benefit of Croat mafiosi, the repeated allegations of match officials being bought off by the major clubs in Spain, the message is one of trust - corruption is something which only occurs at the fringes of society, we are expected to believe!
Thabo Mbeki states (and we feel no compulsion to disagree with the man): "Power is gained and conceded through conspiracy". This simple structure perfectly describes the fragmented cartel template that is massively criminalising the English game. The media are more than aware of this corruption but choose to divert our eyes to more acceptable areas of concern. If corruption rears its ugly head, it is always German or Italian or, preferably, Balkan or ex-Soviet. There is one thing that this corruption never is - English.
This is a pity because it results in the vast majority of the English footballing population effectively having their existences demeaned by being expected to pay out to watch a spectacular experience based on a foundation of rampant corruption. It also begs the question, what the hell do you think you are watching here!!!?
Over the last few days, while the gutter and not-so-gutter press have been checking out the corruption of elsewhere, there have been eleven Premiership matches. To the knowledge of our traders, seven of these matches were corruptly influenced by institution, bookmaker, referee, player or, sometimes, a delicious brew of several of these protagonists. There are no column inches for this brand of corruption. Lets look at last night's Sky Theatre offering featuring Newcastle and Arsenal.
In the days leading up to the match, a major global gamble on Arsenal had been gaining momentum. The logic behind this money was inescapable. Newcastle were in uproar. Their previous two home defeats represented their worst consecutive reversals in over 70 years - having conceded three goals within the opening ten minutes against Pompey, the Geordies were lucky not to end up with nine men and a far heavier defeat to Liverpool. We have evidence of the internal battling and lack of team spirit that existed in the Toon hierarchy and, on top of that, your average Newcastle fan does self-harming support as a core competence. Not the greatest time for Sky to be showing the live visit of the best footballing team in the country! The mainstream media circus hammed up the reality with suggestions of the match being Allardyce's last in charge etc. So far, so typical. Six hours prior to kick off, however, something weird happened - humongous amounts of money started to be placed against Arsenal on the Asian Handicaps. With no logic behind the dynamic, it quickly became evident that a major co-ordinated corruption was taking place. The gamble continued at massive liquidity for a couple of hours and then, just as suddenly, terminated and the market reverted to equilibrium. This market structure is always indicative of insider trading. The final book represented one of the biggest betting markets of the year to date and we sat down to watch the scam unfold. Match referee Mike Dean was the man in charge of landing the deed and his sweat pores were dripping Wirral water when the Gooners took a third minute lead. From that moment on, the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB) official used an old favourite template to thwart Arsenal. Dean allowed a highly physical game and his repeated allowance of clear fouls and indiscretions going unchecked ratcheted up the underlying sense of menace in the match. Wenger was rightly apoplectic post-match and refused to be interviewed by Sky, apparently, as Dean truly demonstrated his inappropriate stature in the final minutes of the game. Arsenal are physically one of the fittest teams in Europe and a large percentage of their goals occur towards the conclusion of games. To take account of this weakness in the betting scam, Dean simply allowed foul after foul to be perpetrated without punishment whenever Arsenal tried to attack in the latter stages. It was a very professional if very corrupt performance from Mr Dean and he fully deserved the Sky camera close-up with the non-gambling (sic) Andy Gray eulogising about his friend Dean's control of the game. This was all rather different to Gray's reaction to Dean's performance in the Man Utd versus Chelsea game when Gray and Skybet were on the wrong side of another betting scam. So the corrupt gamble was landed and the one based on the fundamentals failed which is hardly an uncommon reality in Scudamore's world at the Premier League.
We should not expect bookmakers and institutional power hierarchies to embrace integrity but, on this occasion, it might be in their collective interests for a window of pseudo-integrity. To explain, the kneejerk reaction of those in authority to any suggestion of corruption is denial. If the English bookmakers could find it within themselves to acknowledge that corruption does occur, they could create the dynamic potential to bolster their bottom line through an exposure of the externalised corruption in Group E. This just might result in England undeservedly being planted in the Euro 2008 Finals. Numerous Croatia and Russia games were of high fahrenheit and there are a whole range of bodies who would financially benefit from any rearrangement of our realities. The precedent exists with the exclusion of Yugoslavia in 1992 coming after the Final's Draw was made. That was for military rather than betting indiscretions and the FA must hope that the situations in Chechnya, Transdniestra, Nagorno-Karabakh or Ossetia deteriorate in the coming months in a manner that displays Russian aggression. Or UEFA action could be taken after the inevitable cutting off of gas supplies to Ukraine, Georgia and the like over this winter and the Russians may be barred for economic warfare.
Ignoring the words "dream" and "on", it might be worth hanging onto those "England To Qualify" betting slips after all...
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