Extreme betting rules on player transfers are fault of bookies, not players.
Let’s start this article by going back to happier times. First of all, let’s return to Russia 2018. Gareth “Footballs Coming Home Again” Southgate is leading a pride of young lions on a journey to become World Cup winners. No-one can quite believe it, yet somehow… we reach the Semi-Final and Kieran Trippier steps up to put a free-kick in the top corner after 5 minutes. Kieran Trippier is a World Cup Semi-Final goalscorer.
Continue the journey, trade out Southgate for Pochettino – and you’re in the Champions League Final playing against domestic rivals Liverpool. After a front row seat of Sissoko’s unfortunate handball in the first minute, you finish the match as losers – or more affectionately – runners-up. In 12 months, you have gone from “former Man City academy” to “World Cup Semi-finalist and Champions League runner-up”. What a transformation.
Investigate the journey in more detail, perhaps those close to him, and there’s a picture of discontent. I am not saying Tripper was unhappy at Spurs, but perhaps wanting more. Despite the success in Europe, Pochettino’s Spurs were waning, dropping points regularly and not pressing teams as much. It was evident outside the club that not all was well, and Trippier seized on this with a move abroad. The possibility to relocate and play under Diego Simeone is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one you wouldn’t consider on your own. It’s completely understandable to share this quandry with friends and family. However, it’s these discussions that have led to an FA Charge in Breach of Betting Rules E8(1)(a)(ii) and Rule E8(1)(b), specifically the latter as:
“Where a participant provides to any other person any information relating to football which the participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time, the participant shall be in breach of this rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting.”
This rule is designed to protect the integrity of the game, and integrity of gambling on the game. It’s a rule against “insider trading”, where those with inside knowledge capitalise financially on that knowledge making the betting exchange ‘unfair’.
This same rule caught out Daniel Sturridge during the January 2018 transfer window. Sturridge had contacted his family over a potential move to Spanish La Liga side Sevilla. It’s understandable that he would hold such conversations. If I changed job role (as I have through Covid redundancy) I would be sharing this with my friends and family too, especially if it were to take me to a foreign country. Sturridge was found to be guilty, and punished with a 6 month ban (eventually after appeal). The irony of this offence was that Sturridge didn’t even move to Sevilla in the end.
Those close to Trippier appear to have placed bets on him moving to Atletico Madrid, and benefitted financially as a result. Trippier has declared his innocence from day one, “I want to make it clear that while a professional footballer I have at no stage placed any football related bets or received any financial benefit from others betting.” but this isn’t a sufficient defence in relation to the rules – somehow.
The actions of those friends and family around you should be held at arm’s length when it comes to punishing the footballer at the root of the offence. The rule is legitimate, it needs to protect the integrity of the game, but it should not be with ultimate responsibility on the footballer. The footballer is a person, a human being with natural instincts to share and discuss personal matters within their close circle. A bigger problem is the access and available markets that bookmakers can provide, and therefore, more availability for a perception of insider trading.
Sturridge himself called for a change in the rules on gambling, from the point of view that gambling on the transfers / sacking of players and managers should be taboo – banned, “I’m going to continue to campaign for professional footballers to be able to speak to their families and close friends freely, without the real risk of being charged. I feel the betting companies and the practice and process of people placing bets on players moving clubs has to be stopped.”
There is a graver concern than just these markets – where do we draw the line? Bookmakers are ever keen to introduce more and more football markets because gambling on football is the fastest growing gambling industry worldwide. A quick glance at tonight’s England vs Denmark match on SkyBet and there’s 150+ markets available on the game with some examples below:
Let’s say for example, there’s a striker in a run of poor form. Roberto Firmino is yet to score this season for Liverpool. Out of form and perhaps low on morale, perhaps he discusses with his friends and family about a need to get more shots off, to get in and around the box more often and take a few punts and hope for the best. These are standard thoughts for a striker out of form… but if he does share these concerns – supporting his rights for his mental health and wellbeing – what if someone then senses an opportunity to place a bet on:
66/1! Blimey. That’s some serious betting available… In fact just writing this I am overly excited about the free money of Firmino getting more shots off in the Merseyside Derby next weekend. Be warned, that screenshot is first half only, but going back to the point… should Firmino then face an FA Disciplinary charge and 6 month ban from world football?
That is the precedent for punishment. A ban from world football – not just the FA, domestic English football – but everything.
Professional footballers gambling on fixtures is definitely a world we want to prevent. Preventing stupid markets that capitalise on human weakness is definitely a world we want to prevent. Somewhere in the middle though, we need compromise.
My expectation is Trippier will get a smaller punishment than Sturridge (and it should be remembered that each individual case has its own individual evidence, witness statements etc so it’s not going to be as simple as Trippier gets a smaller ban because he’s white or worse because he actually went to the team that was gambled on) as I imagine the FA are not seeking to set an example, but learn how to control the issue better.
Gambling on where a player is going to move is a ludicrous market. You either know – therefore insider information – or you’re guessing. There’s no skill here, and the market is heavily held in the bookmakers’ favour as they control the odds and can react to any news that is made publicly available. The basic advice from me is don’t waste your time trying to make money on these markets, and certainly do not place large bets on them when you do know something you shouldn’t.
For the footballers, I would advise this. Until the markets disappear, keep the information within your close circle and accept the consequences of those that act unprofessionally on what you have shared. Ultimately you are the professional football on inflated wages, and it’s on you to control your inner circle. However, I am with Daniel Sturridge on the overall problem that there are too many markets available and too much emphasis on markets that rely on gamblers guessing on outcomes and not thought or skill related.
Though, if any of you are interested (or close associates to Jack Wilshere) here’s some available betting for you: