The Times has admitted that ane exclusive story about a Qatar-based football ‘Super League’ was wrong and probably invented by an 'unreliable' source..
Chief football correspondent Oliver Kay wrote that the league would bring 24 of the world’s biggest football clubs together for a biennial multi-million pound tournament in Qatar and neighbouring Gulf states.
The Dream Football League (DFL) exclusive was broken in Wednesday’s edition of The Times but doubts immediately surfaced as to the validity of the story’s sources.
In today’s edition, football editor Tony Evans said: “In reality, the story appears to have been invented and had just enough plausibility to be seductive.
"After the event, it is easy to look into the background of an individual and proclaim that minimal research would have unmasked an unreliable source. This is to misunderstand the world of football.”
Yahoo Eurosport claimed on Thursday that the source for the story was the satirical French website La Cahiers du Football, although in a webchat with Times Online subscribers, Kay vehemently denied such a link.
Kay said: “Cahiers du Football was absolutely not the source of my story -- 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent, 175 million per cent. I have copious amounts of handwritten notes, as well as e-mails and texts, that would confirm this.”
On Thursday Richard Whittall blogged that one of Kay’s sources was Rob Beal, head of Football Media Management at Paris based European Sports Media group.
But it remains unclear if Beal was the sole source of the story.
Beal, who confirmed the link, later tweeted: “Feel ashamed that we have to defend a true story. The notion that a proper sports journalist would write bullshit from one source is insane.”
Phil McNulty of the BBC and Matt Hughes of The Times also took to Twitter to defend Kay.
Sheffield- based Beal, who claims to have extensive links to French football, has also been linked with Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and Welcome to Yorkshire - the bid team who brought the Tour de France to Britain.
When contacted by Press Gazette, Beal refused to comment.
Kay denied suggestions from fellow Twitter users that the story had been taken from the French website. It is understood that Kay questioned the veracity of his story after fresh questions emerged about Beal.
Kay has not posted on the social networking site since Wednesday.
In a full column in today's edition of The Times, Evans said:
There are times when all you can do is admit you were wrong. Last week, Times football ran a story that we thought was a blockbuster. The state of Qatar was proposing a new summer tournament that would offer stunning financial rewards to the teams who participated.
It was a horrible prospect that threatened to transform the sport but appeared to be a brilliant story. The Dream Football League (DFL) would turn into a journalistic nightmare.
How it came about tells you something about the state of the game and the difficulties of football journalism. Oliver Kay developed a relationship with a contact who appeared to be connected with the Qatari ownership at Paris Saint-Germain.
Over the months, this contact provided information that subsequently turned out to be right. Kay did not use any of this knowledge because he could not back it up with secondary sources. However, each time a tip-off turned into a fact, an element of trust grew.
After the event, it is easy to look into the background of an individual and proclaim that minimal research would have unmasked an unreliable source. This is to misunderstand the world of football. All kinds of chancers attach themselves to the game. As the sport becomes ever more bloated by money, these dubious characters are drawn to the periphery of the game, attracted by the opportunity of a share of the cash.
It is not unusual for football journalists to have a contact whose past looks murky under close scrutiny. Some turn out to be useful sources of information, some to be not quite what they seem. Even then, it does not always mean that they are wrong. This means that every story needs checking. Much was plausible about the suggestions that Qatar was planning a new tournament. The Gulf state has become a serious player on the world scene over the past decade and is keen to continue developing its role in football. Plans to gather the game’s top teams in the Middle East have been mooted before. If any nation has the resources to pull off this sort of competition, it is Qatar.