Eighteen years ago, shortly after Mick McCarthy had lost his job as the Republic of Ireland manager for the first time, some friends and I became privy to some inside information regarding the likely identity of his successor. It was so long ago I can’t remember how or where we learned the Football Association of Ireland mulling over a left-field appointment and ready to replace McCarthy with Philippe Troussier, a Parisian whose CV read more like that of a French foreign legion recruit than that of a jobbing manager.
A 20-year career that had begun in France had taken Troussier on footballing tours of duty to the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria, Burkina Faso but now, we were assured, he was about to take over Ireland. Seeing him priced up at double-figure odds with the bookies, we piled on. It was the time to bet like men, to borrow and slightly mangle a phrase from the celebrated Observer racing correspondent Richard Baerlein. Or at the very least men of extremely limited financial means for whom winning several hundred quid would prompt scenes of unbridled jubilation.
When news of the FAI’s interest in Troussier became public, his odds shortened dramatically and he became the unlikely favourite. Our trip to the payout window increasingly looked a formality. We waited impatiently for the outcome until finally, in late January 2003, white smoke billowed out of the chimney over FAI HQ signalling the successful appointment of Ireland’s new manager. It was Brian Kerr.
Due in no small part to his position as national treasure, generally good humoured salt of the earth and pillar of the Irish football community who had achieved unprecedented and extraordinary success managing the country’s underage teams, few Irish football fans begrudged Kerr his crack at the main job. Few except those of us left wailing and gnashing our teeth because he wasn’t Troussier.
The Frenchman, despite what was by all accounts a last-ditch snub, kept plugging away and his peripatetic career currently has him in Vietnam, following stints in China, Tunisia, Japan, Morocco France and Qatar. Largely unknown to the average European football fan, his is a name that remains seared across my brain as a byword for the dangers of dabbling in the kind of sports betting markets where possession of a little insider knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.
Last week, Kieran Trippier became the latest high-profile player to learn that lesson. An ever-present in the Atlético Madrid team who are top of La Liga, the full-back was fined £70,000 and banned from all football activities for 10 weeks after being found guilty of four breaches of Football Association betting rules related to his transfer from Tottenham to Atlético in July 2019. While the reasons for the judgment have yet to be published, Trippier insists he did not gamble, or encourage or advise anyone else to gamble on his move to the Spanish capital.
While we cannot be certain what exactly happened, it seems he has been found guilty of nothing more serious than revealing to some friends he was moving to Atlético, a revelation that prompted them to place wagers on the relevant betting market safe in the knowledge they were going to make themselves some easy money.
If, as seems likely according to sources close to Trippier, that is what happened he has every right to feel hard done by. Hard done by his idiot friends who ought to have known what they were doing could have serious consequences for their mate and hard done by FA regulations so strict they preclude footballers from telling those closest to them about momentous, life-changing career moves until after they have signed the contract and posed alongside Diego Simeone holding a red and white striped jersey.
We must presume Trippier was at least allowed to keep his wife briefed on his move to the Spanish capital. As the mother of the couple’s young children it probably would have been nice for her to be consulted and kept in the loop. But what, for the sake of argument, if she told somebody close to her? And then they told somebody? And that somebody told a Spurs-supporting somebody else who decided to fill their boots at the expense of the bookies? At what point along this chain of what ought to be fairly inconsequential chatter does the dissemination of information regarding her husband’s imminent transfer stop being his fault?
Set to miss at least 13 games and forbidden from even watching his teammates from the stands or joining them on the training ground, Trippier will have plenty of time to ponder the apparent unfairness of his punishment and could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that he would not have found himself in hot water if the kind of betting markets from which his nearest and dearest are alleged to have profited simply did not exist.
In a sport that has a famously unhealthy relationship with gambling, the availability of odds-on player transfers, next club manager and the famous “sack race” simply cry out to be exploited by opportunists who are “in the know”.
Rather than complain to the authorities when they think they have been unfairly rinsed by somebody who knows more about the next move of Kieran Trippier, Philippe Troussier or any other player or manager than they do, perhaps the bookmaking fraternity would be better served by simply refusing to offer the kind of niche betting opportunities that are wide open to often hapless or potentially career-damaging abuse.