England's football managers may not be the most tech-savvy group around but nevertheless, an ambitious new plan has them shifting their top-secret business dealings to the Internet.
The League Managers Association (LMA), the body representing the managers of all 92 English league clubs, has struck a £200,000 deal with Cisco Systems to get all its members online. Under the deal, the managers will receive laptop computers and be linked to a secure corporate intranet, according to a report in Wednesday's Financial Times (FT).
The move will present a steep learning curve for the LMA members but could revolutionise the world of transfer deals, which has often been shrouded in secrecy. In the past, managers arranged clandestine meetings to discuss prices for top players. That could change by using encrypted messages and a secure intranet. The laptops, supplied by Toshiba, are to arrive in the next month.
Critics reckon the service could allow managers to hide their transactions not just from rival clubs and the press, but from the law as well. Cynics have labelled the service "bung.com", a reference to a recent scandal in which managers allegedly received illegal payments during transfer deals. The LMA insisted to the FT that the intranet would only be used for above-board transactions, noting that managers are no longer involved with the financial side of transfer deals.
The LMA is also planning to launch its own Web site, separate from the internal network.
The Cisco arrangement comes just days after the release of a government report on e-commerce, which many hope will allow more effective use of encryption. At present, encryption faces a number of restrictions designed to prevent criminals from hiding their online communications from law-enforcement authorities.