Former assistant head coach of Barnsley Football Club Tommy Wright is in court charged with bribery
A football coach colluded with two agents in a corrupt agreement to take ownership of players and cash in on transfers, a court has heard.
Former Barnsley assistant coach Tommy Wright went on trial alongside agents Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pagliara and Dax Price at Southwark Crown Court today.
The court heard the trio were arrested following the same series of stings by the Daily Telegraph newspaper which saw Sam Allardyce resign as England manager.
An undercover reporter arranged for Wright, a former Leeds and Leicester player turned coach, to received £5,000 in cash as they plotted the corrupt arrangement.
Wright, 53, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, denies two charges of accepting a bribe in contravention of the Bribery Act 2000.
He is on trial at Southwark Crown Court alongside football agents Pagliara, 64, of Bury, Greater Manchester, and Price, 48, of Sittingbourne, Kent, who jointly deny two counts of paying and facilitating a bribe under the same act.
Opening the trial, prosecutor Brian O’Neill QC said the three were caught up in an extensive investigation by the Daily Telegraph, which ‘published a number of exposes of alleged corruption in English football’ in September 2016.
Mr O’Neill said ‘the most high profile casualty’ of the work was then England manager Sam Allardyce, who had to resign from his role.
Wright allegedly plotted with Guiseppe Pagliara (left) and Dax Price (right) to profit from players
The court heard that undercover journalist Claire Newell, using the pseudonym Claire Taylor, posed as a representative of a fake sports management company named Meiran, and contacted Pagliara in May 2016 pretending to want to invest in football players in the UK.
Mr O’Neill explained that, across a series of meetings, emails and texts, Pagliara, originally from Genoa in Italy, and Price, allegedly proposed schemes which saw them becoming players’ agents, buying them and placing them at clubs.
They would maintain ownership of a player, and profit from his onward sale, which Mr O’Neill said was ‘all to be facilitated by bribery’.
The court was told that such ‘third party ownership’ set-ups were banned by the English Football Association (FA) in 2009 and by Fifa, the football world-governing body, in 2015.
In August 2016, when all three defendants were present, Mr O’Neill said Wright received ‘an envelope containing £5,000 in cash’ in return for ‘commercial information about Barnsley FC’s players’.
The jury heard that Price and Pagliara, who has never been registered as a football agent with the FA, set up an introduction with Wright, who allegedly accepted payment to encourage players to appoint Price and Pagliara as their agents and help place players at Barnsley.
The court heard the case centres on the same newspaper investigation which led Sam Allardyce to resign as England manager
Mr O’Neill said Price and Pagliara ‘explicitly discussed the payment of future sums to Mr Wright’.
The court was told that from their first meeting with the undercover journalist, Price and Pagliara ‘revealed their awareness of corrupt practices in the football transfer market and discussed their willingness to be involved in such activities’.
Mr O’Neill said the men repeatedly used the phrase ‘looking after people’ when discussing alleged corruption across the football world.
He said Wright had helped arrange a meeting for the owner of Barnsley to be introduced to Price and Pagliara, where the Italian would pretend to be an interpreter, because he did not want it to be known that a previous finding of corruption had been made against him in Italy by the Italian Football Federation.
Mr O’Neill said Wright ‘rather than alerting his employers to this ruse, played along with the facade’.
The jury heard that at their first meeting with the undercover journalist, Price claimed football managers received ‘back-handers’ for player-signing deals.
He said: ‘It’s not corruption but you know it is corruption… because obviously at the end of the day they’re just putting every deal through the manager and they’re obviously copping the money for it.’
The jury were taken through transcripts of conversations with Pagliara and Price, secretly recorded during the Daily Telegraph’s investigation, which were later passed to the City of London Police.
The trial continues.