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Volume 6 No. 213

International Football

Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano has become "embroiled in allegations that he authorised payments for 'spying' on internal emails" during his five-year spell as financial VP of Barcelona, according to Marc Ogden of the London TELEGRAPH. Prosecutors in Catalonia have alleged that Soriano helped former Barcelona President Joan Laporta "illegally monitor communications, with certain key words flagging up emails of interest to the regime." The Catalonia Public Prosecutor’s Office said that Soriano and former Barcelona Managing Dir Joan Oliver are being investigated for "criminal liability." As of Tuesday night, Man City was "unaware of any contact between the investigators and Soriano, who is believed to be relaxed about developments in Spain." Senior figures at Man City declined to comment about the allegations against Soriano. However, there is a "growing sense that he may be the victim of a dirty-tricks campaign emanating from Barcelona." Man City aimed "to exploit his success" at the Nou Camp, and that of Sporting Dir Txiki Begiristain "in order to accelerate City’s growth on and off the pitch." The increasing rivalry between the clubs has led to claims in Barcelona that Man City has "tried to lure" Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez away from the Nou Camp. Man City has "strenuously denied" these suggestions (TELEGRAPH, 2/20).

EYE OF THE HURRICANE: Also in London, Herbert & Jenson reported under Spanish law, "virtually anyone can trigger an investigation by lodging a complaint against the administrators of a football club." Catalonia's senior prosecutor has found that when Soriano was a VP of the club he ordered cyber intelligence company Cybex Experience to "embed a device in the server of the club's internal computer, enabling all internal emails containing any one of 100 keywords to be monitored." There have also been reports that Man City is trying to "gazump Barcelona for the services of Neymar." The EPL champion is monitoring his situation, like most clubs who are capable of signing him, but has accepted that the 21-year-old "will become a Barcelona player this summer" (INDEPENDENT, 2/20). In Barcelona, Francesc Perearnau wrote Soriano "is in the eye of the hurricane of a major political operation against political spying." There are indications the spying was aimed at particular individuals in the Barcelona circles, including current club President Sandro Rosell (MUNDO DEPORTIVO, 2/20). MARCA reported Oliver acknowledged that the club monitored the emails of all the employees and upper management of the club because there were "information leaks." Oliver also admitted it was "an error" (MARCA, 2/18).

The deputy editor-in-chief of a popular Chinese sports newspaper and a former professional footballer said that match-fixing and bribery "are endemic in Chinese football, primarily because of low player salaries and unchecked local government officials," according to Jonathan Kaiman of the London GUARDIAN. The ex-footballer, who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation from former coaches and teammates said that Chinese footballers "were prone to accepting bribes because their salaries were often painfully low and delayed for months." Before he retired in '09, the player said that he would "often receive a phone call from an unknown number the night before a match." The caller, usually from a gambling syndicate, would "offer him thousands of pounds to let the other team win." The player said that he "never accepted their offers." The player said, "Most of the time, it was the defenders who got this kind of offer, because they could allow the other team to score." Chinese sports magazine Titan Weekly Deputy Editor-In-Chief Ma Dexing said that despite higher player salaries, football corruption "remained a problem because unchecked local government officials often manipulated matches to manage their political relationships." Ma said, "It has nothing to do with money. it's just because of face." Ma added that local officials "often had enormous power over football teams within their jurisdictions." Ma said, "They can ask the team's boss to kick a player off the team if the player doesn't listen to him" (GUARDIAN, 2/20).

Brazil's tax authorities said that 200,000 counterfeit footballs originating from China "have been seized at the Brazilian port of Santos," according to Brian Homewood of REUTERS. The balls included "imitations of the Jabulani model, the ball used at the 2010 World Cup, and the Cafusa, which will be used at the Confederations Cup in Brazil in June." Brazil’s Inland Revenue Service said that the balls were apprehended at the port as part of "Operation Protected Frontiers" and would be destroyed. No arrests were reported (REUTERS, 2/20). GLOBO TV reported this type of control at the Santos port would be more common with the Confederations Cup and World Cup looming closer (GLOBO TV, 2/20).

UEFA would consider proposals to create a joint Russian-Ukrainian football league "if the national federations involved agree," according to R-SPORT. Leading Russian clubs and state-controlled gas company Gazprom, are "pushing for the creation of the Unified Football Championship for Russian and Ukrainian clubs, which could then expand into other post-Soviet countries." In a statement, UEFA said, "In general, provided all respective national bodies agree, UEFA would then look into the matter." FIFA President Sepp Blatter has labeled the plans “impossible,” and the Ukrainian football federation said last week that it was "absolutely opposed." Russian FA President Nikolai Tolstykh has previously said that he would follow Blatter’s lead, although the organization appeared to "soften its stance slightly Tuesday" with a website statement promising to “act in the interests of Russian football” on the issue (R-SPORT, 2/20).

English fifth-tier football club Stockport County VP Spencer Fearn insists that "the future is bright despite rumours the club" had a £1.5M ($2.3M) debt, according to Gavin Browne of the MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS. With total losses of that scale in the last two years, the Hatters "have been embarking on a regime of cutting their costs accordingly." As such, County is "apparently on course for much reduced loss this time around" -- even if the board finds itself at the center of more financial queries. Fearn said: "We aren’t £1.5M in debt; there are loans to the club which are about £500,000 ($765,000) which are from shareholders." He added: "The losses were £850,000 ($1.3M) and then £650,000 ($995,000), so this year we’re hoping to get it around £100,000 ($150,000) and running Stockport County as a business, so we aren’t in any danger at all" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 2/20).