Liverpool tried to cover up their tapping-up of an 11-year-old boy by instructing his father to lie to Premier League investigators, according to shocking allegations about their conduct that can now be revealed.
The lengths to which one of the world’s most famous teams were allegedly prepared to go to conceal forbidden inducements made to a Stoke City schoolboy and his family can be laid bare by The Daily Telegraph following an investigation into the events which saw the Anfield side become the first to be punished under strict new Premier League rules.
The saga also left the youngster’s parents in thousands of pounds of debt and the boy unable to join another academy until former club Stoke are paid £49,000.
The inducements allegedly offered by Liverpool included all-expenses-paid trips to tournaments in Paris and Denmark, £50 cash in hand every time the boy went for training at their academy, and even money to help his father replace a faulty car exhaust.
It can also be disclosed that during a meeting with the elder son of the family, which he recorded on his mobile phone, Liverpool told him the club were willing to pay a £5,000 debt incurred in school fees but were unable to do so while his parents pursued a formal complaint against them.
The Premier League announced last week that Liverpool had been banned from signing schoolboy players for at least 12 months and fined £100,000 over a pursuit of the boy his family alleges was led by the club’s head of pre-academy recruitment and player retention, Ian Barrigan, for nearly two years.
The sanction followed an investigation – the existence of which was exclusively revealed by The Telegraph – triggered when the boy’s parents pulled out of a deal with Liverpool following a rule change that prevented the club honouring a pledge to pay his tuition fees if he joined them.
The Premier League found Liverpool to have funded an all-expenses-paid trip for the youngster and his family to a match at Anfield and made “other efforts” to encourage him to leave Stoke. No more detail was provided about the nature of those transgressions, which the Premier League has since refused to discuss with The Telegraph.
Determined to ensure no one else suffers the same fate at the hands of Liverpool, or another club, while they pursue legal action against the Anfield side, the boy’s family have now disclosed to The Telegraph many of the alleged offences they say took place and were communicated to the Premier League.
They include a claim – denied by Liverpool – that two representatives of the club told the boy’s father last September not to disclose the tapping-up or inducements when interviewed by a lawyer acting on behalf of the Premier League.
It can, however, be revealed that academy director Alex Inglethorpe and head of academy football operations Nick Marshall – neither of whom is one of the aforementioned two representatives – did meet the eldest son of the family on Nov 25.
The trio discussed the fallout from a saga that saw Liverpool withdraw their offer to take over the funding of the boy’s education from Stoke after he had already begun his first term. That followed a rule change prohibiting the payment of a child’s private school fees by clubs unless they make the same offer to all their scholars.
Inglethorpe more than once told the elder son that Liverpool could not pay the bill incurred by the parents or sign the boy while the family were pursuing a formal complaint against the club with the Premier League. He then said, “Do you think we’re bothered about five grand?”, with Marshall interjecting, “It’s Liverpool Football Club,” before Inglethorpe continued, “For God’s sake, I would happily write you a cheque now for it. Happily.”
Inglethorpe then said it was the Premier League which told him Liverpool were not permitted to settle the family’s debt or sign the boy while the grievance process remained active. Asked what would happen if the complaint was withdrawn, Inglethorpe replied: “It changes things.” When asked about Liverpool paying an entire year’s tuition fees, he said the club would “happily” do so but the Premier League would not allow it.
Liverpool initially failed to acknowledge the above exchange had taken place, instead alleging the boy’s father had offered to drop his complaint if the school fees were paid.
In order to rebut that, the family released a recording of the Nov 25 exchange to The Telegraph, one they said had been provided to the Premier League during its investigation. Liverpool on Tuesday night maintained their allegation about the father but did not dispute that Inglethorpe, Marshall and the elder son had discussed the prospect of the family dropping the case and the school fees being paid.
During the meeting, Inglethorpe also told the elder son that even Stoke would no longer have been able to continue paying for the boy’s private education following the Premier League rule change. When the elder son argued the league’s guidelines indicated Stoke’s deal with the boy took precedence over this rule change, Inglethorpe branded the contract “meaningless”, claiming his own information had come directly from the Premier League itself.
The Premier League on Tuesday night refused to confirm or deny either whether it had told Inglethorpe this or even divulge the true status of the Stoke contract.
In addition to the recording, the family have provided The Telegraph with a list of allegations they say they made to the Premier League about Barrigan, including one that he repeatedly promised the club would pay the boy’s school fees if the youngster joined Liverpool.
The most recent of those pledges was alleged to have been made in August 2016 – the month after rule changes ironically brought in to clamp down on widespread tapping-up by its clubs. Among the other allegations are that Barrigan:
Arranged for kit to be given both to the boy and his family and friends.
Offered £1,500 per month to compensate for the costs of taking the boy to and from training, backdated to whenever he resigned from Stoke.
Offered the services of Liverpool’s team doctor when the boy contracted a chest infection that left him unable to play for Stoke.
Procured the login details for the boy’s Performance Management Application monitoring system.
Told the family to contact other football clubs to give the appearance of uncertainty as to where the boy would next register.
Contacted the boy’s school last summer to tell it Liverpool would take over paying for his education, later confirming it should send the bill for his school uniform of more than £400 to the club.
Liverpool refused to confirm which of the allegations against him Barrigan accepted or denied but said not all the claims and/or the way they had been presented were complained of by the family during the Premier League investigation.
Stoke confirmed last week they were pursuing the Premier League for compensation over the loss of the boy but have since repeatedly failed to respond to requests for comment about whether they would allow him to resume his career were that paid.
The Premier League on Tuesday declined to comment on that or any other aspect of the Liverpool case beyond its statement of last week.