Football for sale: Agents and manager sentenced over corruption scandal

Patrick Sawer
Dax Price,Tommy Wright and Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pagliara, were found guilty of soliciting and accepting bribes in order to gain influence in the selection, management and ownership of players - Jeff Gilbert

Two players’ agents and a senior club football manager have been given suspended sentences totalling four-and-a-half years for their part in a football corruption scandal which shocked the game.

The three had been convicted of bribery charges last month, following an investigation by The Daily Telegraph exposing their activities.

Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Pagliara, Dax Price and Tommy Wright were found guilty of soliciting and accepting bribes in order to gain influence in the selection, management and ownership of players.

Pagliara, 64, of Bury, Greater Manchester, was handed a two year suspended sentence at Southwark Crown Court for two counts of paying and facilitating a bribe.

His business partner Price, 48, of Sittingbourne, Kent, was given an 18-month suspended sentence, also for two counts of paying and facilitating a bribe.

Tommy Wright, 53, the former assistant manager of Barnsley FC, was handed a 12-month suspended sentence for two counts of accepting a bribe.

Giuseppe Pagliara was handed a two-year suspended sentence Credit: Yui Mok/PA

The sentences followed an undercover investigation by The Daily Telegraph, during which covert recordings of conversations between Pagliara, Price, Wright and undercover reporters exposed claims that backhanders and illicit payments were commonplace in English football. 

Following an eight week trial and more than 30 hours of deliberations the jury at Southwark Crown Court decided the three men had tried to buy influence and solicit favours through secret payments.

Pagliara was found to have arranged with Price to pay Wright £5,000, with the promise of another £5,000 to come, in return for encouraging his players to sign with their sports agency, placing their players in the Barnsley first team, arranging a meeting with the owners of the club and supplying confidential information about his players’ contracts.

The bribe was paid in cash by an undercover reporter posing as an executive for a fictitious Far East sports conglomerate set up by this newspaper in 2016 as part of a sting operation, following a tip off about corruption in English football.

Pagliara had repeatedly denied being corrupt, claiming in court he had been “grandstanding” and putting on a show for the fictitious conglomerate, named Meiran, in the hope of persuading it to buy a club. 

But over the course of the eight week trial the jury heard numerous boasts by Pagliara, made in covert recordings, that he was himself corrupt and was happy to corrupt others.

At one stage he was heard saying: “I love it when people say ‘Pino is involved in this deal, he’ll corrupt anybody’.”

He later stated to our undercover reporter: “Everyone who works with me is dishonest. I’m a f------ thief and you don’t try and steal from me.”

Price, who did not appear in the witness box for his own defence, denied he was corrupt, claiming through his defence barrister that he had been “bull--------” and telling Meiran’s representatives “what they wanted to hear”..

Former Barnsley assistant head coach Tommy Wright claimed he had taken the £5,000 cash payment as a consultancy fee for his professional opinion of players Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Wright claimed he had taken the £5,000 cash payment as a consultancy fee for his professional opinion of players, but admitted in court he had not submitted any invoices for the work or any written reports on the players in question.

Pagliara and Price were heard on tape claiming they were able to buy influence with managers, but there was no evidence those named - including Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp and Steve McLaren - were guilty of accepting bribes of gifts and cash.

All three men had been described in court as being of good character with no previous convictions. 

Before reaching their verdict the jury heard that in 2005 Pagliara, the then general manager of Venezia FC, was banned from Italian football for five years after taking a payment of 250,000 euros for his club to throw their last match against Genoa FC, who were seeking promotion.   

Following the guilty verdict the Football Association disqualified Price from working as an agent.

Asking for Pagliara’s sentence to be suspended defence barrister Nathaniel Rudolf said the former agent’s wife was in poor health and “totally dependent on her husband”.

In a letter to the judge Pagliara’s son in law described him as a “caring” man who had once placed his own life in danger when he rescued an elderly couple from a house fire.

Graham Trembath QC said Price had been “lacking in sophistication and displayed naivety” when confronted with the prospect of making money from Meiran, adding: “He was dazzled and he was tempted and unfortunately he gave in to that temptation.”

Mr Trembath said a custodial sentence would have a damaging and disruptive impact on Price’s family, putting at risk his talented 15-year-old daughter’s chance of winning a place at Cambridge University, at a critical time in her education.

Lewis Power QC said Wright had been “somewhat manipulated by others and had suffered great reputational damage, shame and embarrassment,” adding: “It’s been a high profile fall from grace.”

The court heard that before being sentenced Wright wrote a personal letter to the judge, in which he said: “I’m truly sorry and thoroughly ashamed for the embarrassment I’ve caused to my family, the wider football community and my church and I’m truly sorry for my actions.

“I’ve destroyed my 30 year career over a decision I made in a few days.”