After the Suarez and Bale sagas, is tapping up a necessary evil?

Gareth Bale

Underhand tactics and questionable approaches appear commonplace in the world of football today. This summer has seen both Liverpool and Tottenham subjected to pre-meditated campaigns by other clubs to unsettle their star players. These ploys, although illegal in the eyes of the Premier League and FIFA, appear to be a pre-requisite for achieving any big money deal. Is this behaviour wrong or is it just something we have to accept now?

The phrase ‘tapping up’ has been bandied about a lot of late, and it is therefore important to define what it actually means in the eyes of the footballing authorities. The regulations state that a football club must not form contact with a player or his agent without acquiring permission from the football club he is currently under contract with.

A club may try to approach the player or agent in question in order to express an interest, and hope to unsettle the player and push for a move whilst bypassing the selling club. Of course the selling club still has to accept the offer, but by destabilising the player it is much easier to force the move at an invariably lower price.

So does tapping up exist? Considering there have only been a few cases ever to be prosecuted you may be mislead in thinking that it is a rarity. Ashley Cole’s notorious meeting with Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon in a London hotel back in 2005 landed the club a £300,000 fine under the FA’s section K. Was this a small price to pay to accelerate a move for the English defender? Interesting to note as well, Jonathan Barnett who is Bale’s current agent was present at the 2005 meeting to represent Cole.

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Aside from further action taken against Chelsea in regards to the Gael Kakuta transfer, there really hasn’t been any major step taken on tapping up. It would be both naïve and ignorant to suggest that it has been eradicated, in fact I would go so far as too say it is more prevalent today than ever. Scott Minto of Sky Sports actually described the Chelsea fines as ‘extremely harsh’ due to the fact it occurs so readily in football.

The problem for associations is that tapping up is in its nature a covert activity and even when it is reported becomes extremely difficult to prove. It has been widely suggested that Gareth Bale and indeed his agent have been in deep discussion with Real Madrid, and considering Spurs won’t entertain offers this is to all intents and purposes illegal. I do not doubt that conversations would have taken place between Barnett and Madrid but how can you honestly prove it without having a MI6-esque branch of the FA?

Similarly knowledge of release clauses proves the existence of tapping up. Only club, player and agent know these contractual clauses. How then does a buying club so often become aware of its existence? Arsenal could only have known about the £40,000,001 clause because of a conversation with a player or agent as this is information that Liverpool are unlikely to divulge.

Tapping up is becoming a necessity for big clubs as they look to bolster their squads. It is a tool that hastens deals and makes them cheaper in many cases. Is it right? Probably not. Tapping up just exacerbates the gulf between the haves and have-nots in football, as bigger clubs are able to prize away the star assets of other clubs. From a moral stand point it isn’t the way many would want to conduct their business, but in football the end tends to justify the means and with tapping up this is no different. There is no apparent risk of being prosecuted for it, so why not use it as a tactic?

This is an issue where I feel for the authorities. They know of its existence, they know how detrimental it can be to selling clubs, but they are powerless to prevent it. The only solution to the problem is if the clubs change their tact and start to drag their feet.

Would clubs holding onto unsettled star names be prudent in the face of morality? It certainly wouldn’t make financial or footballing sense, but it would definitely send a message to agents and clubs that their tactics don’t always produce a positive outcome. Modric’s transfer to Madrid was again subject to all kinds of speculated approaches and Daniel Levy in the end forced the Croatian to stay another year. Levy is widely accepted as the kind of man to not take bullying lightly, but on the flipside he is a businessman first and foremost so the sale of the player a year later made sense for him.

Tapping up in football is wrong for so many reasons, depriving selling clubs of control over their assets it simply seeks to cement the hierarchical status quo in football. Is it necessary? Buying clubs would see it as necessary in securing their targets at cheap prices, but football on the whole would be more competitive and equitable without it. Aside from a few clubs who may sacrifice themselves in the face of an aggressive purchaser, I do not see this issue being solved anytime soon.

Do we just have to accept tapping up as part of the modern game?

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