There was no secret filming, no entrapment and no pint-sized glass of wine but Raffaele Riva will go the same way as Sam Allardyce after Watford unwittingly became the latest club caught up in the Telegraph’s investigation into corruption in football.
The headlines are damaging – ‘Watford chairman submitted forged bank letter’ – and don’t look good, especially in light of recent revelations about the game. There will no doubt be calls for the club to be hung, drawn and quartered. Some will probably even drag up stuff about how Watford exploited the loan system. But, on closer inspection, this episode does not appear to be part of a wider malaise or reflective of a deep-rooted problem at Vicarage Road. The actions of one man have cast a cloud of suspicion over the club. Owner Gino Pozzo and chief executive Scott Duxbury will no doubt be furious. The action they take will be swift and decisive following a searching internal investigation.
Riva has made a huge error, a grave mistake in asking an intermediary to get a letter of authority from a bank to basically prove to the English Football League (EFL) that Gino Pozzo was good for the money, that in the unlikely event of everything going belly up, Watford had the funds in place to fulfil its fixtures. It’s like satisfying a mortgage lender with wage slips or a letter from a company confirming you work there and are financially credible. We all know Pozzo has plenty more than the £7m the EFL required to ratify the change in the club’s shareholding back in 2014 but for reasons only Riva will know, he asked an intermediary to get the letter from the bank instead of doing it himself. Quite why the intermediary then obtained a forgery is a mystery only he can explain but it’s fair to say he won’t be getting a Christmas card from Riva this year.
Riva will pay for his aberration with his position of chairman. He has been a trusted financial aide of the Pozzos for years, handling millions of pounds for the Italian family and it will be interesting to see if he’s now marginalised by Gino and Giampaolo when it comes to their private financial affairs. That’s for them to deal with. Watford fans will be more concerned with any possible sanction their club may face as a result. Talk of a points deduction is hugely alarmist. For a start, the offence took place in the Football League and they do not have the power to impose such a sanction on a Premier League club.
The club will have instructed a team of lawyers to show the club did not profit or gain an unfair advantage from the letter. It wasn’t as if the money wasn’t in place to support the club – estimates put the money the Pozzos have invested into the club at £21m while one site has Giampaolo worth £330m and Gino valued at £120m. The authenticity of the letter is the problem. Riva had no reason to doubt its veracity, nor did his fellow club officials and nor did the EFL. Why would they? It looks perfectly legitimate, after all.
How it ended up in the hands of the Telegraph is also shrouded in mystery. Riva and the intermediary are thought to have fallen out last year.
A fine, possibly suspended, by the EFL is probable. The removal of Riva, who replaced Graham Taylor as chairman in July 2012, is likely to be enough to satisfy the Football Association and the Premier League. This should then, in time, all blow over.